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Fall 2009 

Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal 

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Is Modernity Sustainable? 
By David L. Langs ton 

Charles Darwin and the Problem of Modernism 
By William Montgomery 

The Slave Auction 

Sculpture by John Rogers 

Flesh of John Brown's Flesh: 2 December 1859 
Poetry by Geoffrey Brock 

Left with Lincoln 
By Mark D. Miller 

Humanity: How D'yuh Spell It? 
By Roy Carroll 

The Meaning of Cuba on the 50th Anniversary of the 
Triumph of the Revolution 
By Maynard Seider 

Factors Affecting Language Use in Two Franco-American 
By Louis E. Stettrng 

Does History Matter? 
Book Review Essay by Robert Bence 


Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal 


Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Editorial Board 

Frances Jones-Sneed, Managing Editor 
Robert Bence 
Sumi Colligan 
Abbot Cutler 
Mark D. Miller 
William Montgomery 
Leoti Peters 
Graziana Ramsden 

Arlenc Rouras, Copy Editor 

Advisory Board 

James MacGregor Burns, Professor of history and political science. 
University of Maryland 
Stephen Fix, Professor of English, Williams College 
Tony Gengardly, Professor of Art History, Massachusetts College of Libera! Arts 
Thomas Green, Professor of law and history, University of Michigan 
Mary Huber, Carnegie Foundation scholar 
Lea Newman, Professor of English emerita, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 
Joseph Thompson, Director of MASS MoCA 

© 2009 The Mind's Eye 
ISSN 1098-0512 


The Mind's Eye, a journal of scholarly and creative work, is published biannually by 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. While emphasizing articles of scholarly merit, 
The Mind's Eye focuses on a general communication of ideas of interest to a liberal arts 
college. We welcome expository essays, including reviews, as well as fiction, poetry and 
art. Please refer to the inside back cover for a list of writers guidelines. 

A yearly subscription to The Mind's Eye is $7.50. Send check or money order to The 
Mind's Eye, C/O Frances Jones-Sneed, Massachusetts College of liberal Arts, 375 Church 
Street, North Adams, MA 01247. 

2 The Mind's Eye 

Mind's Eye 

FALL 2009 

Editor's File 4 

Is Modernity Sustainable? 
By David L. Langston 5 

Charles Darwin and the Problem of Modernism 

By William Montgomery 16 

The Slave Auction 

Sculpture by John Rogers 32 

Flesh of John Brown's Flesh: 2 December 1859 

Poetry by Geoffrey Brock 33 

Left with Lincoln 
By Mark D. Miller 35 

Humanity: How D'yuh Spell It? 
By Roy Carroll 52 

The Meaning of Cuba on the 50th Anniversary of the Triumph 
of the Revolution 

By Maynard Seider 59 

Factors Affecting Language Use in Two Franco-American 

By Louis E. Stelling 74 

Does History Matter? 
Book Review Essay by Robert Bence 94 

Contributors 99 

'[he Minds Eye 3 

Editors File 

"The crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." 

—John Brown, December 2, 1859 

In the Fall 2009 issue, three articles discuss aspects of the year 1859, one 
article discusses French-Canadien immigrants, while another analyzes 
the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. The focus article in this 
issue deals with the importance of education in humanities al the college level. 
Finally, a book review essay on Abraham Lincoln and an original poem about 
the firebrand of 1859, John Brown, round out the issue. 

David L. Langston, in "Is Modernity Sustainable? One Hundred and Fifty 
Years of the Myth of Modernity," writes about the importance and significance 
of modernity in the 21st century. William Montgomery discusses the father 
of modernism in "Charles Darwin and the Problem of Modernism" and the 
problems that resulted as a consequence of modernism. Mark Miller's "Left 
with Lincoln: The Lessons of John Brown and the Civil War for Barack Obama 
and the 2 1 st Century," compares one of the most important events of the 19th 
century to a groundbreaking event of the 21st century. In "Humanity: How 
D'yuh Spell It?" Roy Carrol! writes about the importance of liberal education 
in the academy, while Maynard Seider, in "The Meaning of Cuba on the 50th 
Anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution," writes about the significance 
of a modern revolution. Louis Stelling, in "Factors Affecting Language Use 
in Two Franco-American Communities," discusses how nearly one million 
French-Canadian immigrants formed tightly knit communities throughout 
the northeastern United States and maintained their language through the 
creation of French-speaking institutions and social networks. Robert Bence's 
book review essay on Abraham Lincoln and Geoffrey Brock's poem on John 
Brown complete the issue. 

Frances Jones-Snet'd, Managing Editor 

4 Ihe Mind's Eye 

Is Modernity Sustainable? 

One Hundred and Fifty Years of the Myth of Modernity 


By any measure, 1859 was a remarkable year, for within its brief span 
there occurred an array of extraordinary events that profoundly shaped 
the development of the modern world. Not only did Charles Darwin 
publish On the Origin of the Species and Karl Marx present a theory of the 
economic determination of history in A Contribution to the Critique of Political 
Economy but oil started flowing from the first commercial wells in Titusville, 
Pennsylvania, and John Brown staged his raid on Harper's Ferry, an event that 
presaged America's Civil War, Equally, the underpinnings of international 
modernization were being created as the French commenced digging the Suez 
Canal and the British reorganized their empire following the calamity of the 
Sepoy Rebellion in 1857. In the world of letters, Charles Baudelaire completed 
"The Swan," perhaps his most important poem in Vleurs du Mat, a landmark 
book in modern poetry, and George Eliot published her pioneering novel, 
Adam Bede. Our Nig, the first novel by an African- American woman, Harriet 
Wilson, was published. Among painters, Frederic Church exhibited Heart of 
the Andes, a large-canvas landscape in his series of epic celebrations of the 

The Mind's Eye 5 

David L. Langston 

sublime forces of nature, and Albert Bierstadt packed up his Conestoga wagon 
for a yearslong western journey that eventually produced his own celebrations 
of the grandeur of raw nature in Looking Down Yosemite Valley or The Rocky 
Mountains, Lander's Peak. The biblical scholar Karl Graf offered an early ver- 
sion of the documentary hypothesis for biblical authorship by publishing his 
commentary on Chronicles, and the Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz founded 
the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 

The year 1859 also saw the appearance of other staples of modern life, 
intercollegiate athletics and the spread of psychology into the courtroom. For 
two decades, intercollegiate sports had been gaining adherents and popularity, 
and the first-ever intercollegiate competition-a rowing regatta at Lake Win- 
nipesaukee between Harvard and Yale in 1852— had ballooned info a college 
rowing association, College Union Regatta, established in 1858 (Guttmann 
103). But in 1859, the rowing competition was reorganized to select athletes 
from the entire college, not from just a single rowing club. And college athletics 
further expanded in 1 859 when students at Princeton organized the first baseball 
club and the first-ever intercollegiate baseball game was played in Pittsfield, 
Massachusetts, between Amherst College and Williams College (final score: 
Amherst, 73; Williams, 32). Elsewhere, in the courtroom, the first "temporary 
insanity" defense was mounted by a U.S. congressman, Daniel Sickles, who 
claimed to be innocent of killing his wife's lover because he was so consumed 
with an "uncontrollable frenzy" that had caused a "brainstorm" of temporary 
madness, thereby rendering him innocent of shooting his victim in Lafayette 
Park across from the White House (Spiegel). The jury agreed, and Sickles was 
set free. (He later gave confirming evidence of his mental instability when he 
violated orders al the battle of Gettysburg and positioned his unit so that it was 
virtually wiped out.) 

Like almost every year, 1859 also had its share of symbolic passages: Arthur 
Conan Doyle, Albert Dreyfus, John Dewey, Edmund Husserl and Henri Bergson 
were all born; Washington Irving died; Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of 
American philosophical pragmatism, graduated from Harvard; and Horace 
BushaeU, a leading advocate of religious liberalism, retired. 

It should be obvious that any focus on 1 859 is itself a shorthand for wide- 
ranging changes that were under way throughout the 1850s and 1 860s— from 
the surge in American literature in the early '50s to technological advances 
such as improving the sewing machine (the patent for the lockstitch shuttle 
was granted in 1859) to the development of mass warfare shortly before in 

6 Ihe Mind's Eye 

David L. Langston 

the Crimea and just afterward at Antietam. Midcentury was the time when 
changes that had been developing for decades lurched into public view and 
into organizational acknowledgment. 

Perhaps the founding of the Chicago Board of Trade can serve as an il- 
lustration. Organized in 1848, (he board was only a collection of individuals 
intent on trading wheat and other agricultural commodities that were just 
starting to move through the new Chicago railhead from recently settled 
midwestern farms. But as individuals, the traders could not keep up with the 
volume of commodities that had become a flood by 1859 (whereas only three 
million bushels of wheat moved through Chicago in 1854, the flow had in- 
creased to 10 million bushels in 1857 and 14 milllion bushels by 1860) (Lurie 
16). Individual traders could neither monitor the quality of the commodities 
nor authenticate the quantities of grain or beef that were being bought and 
sold. To gain predictability and stabilize profits, the state of Illinois granted 
a charter in 1859 to the Board of Trade to serve as the agency for establish- 
ing and policing quality standards for the grains Iraded through the rail hub. 
The Board of Trade's transformation from an association of individuals to an 
organization with hierarchy, norms, methods and predictable consequences 
is part of a more widespread intellectual and social movement away from the 
charismatic individual toward a social organization that merges individuals 
into what Herman Melville called "the joint stock company" of the world. 

Another marker of this pervasive change in public sensibility can be seen 
in the altered attitudes toward Niagara Falls (and, by extension, toward nature 
in general). Even the first published accounts of Niagara had treated the falls 
as an emblem of the natural w r onders of the New World, and early visitors 
and enthusiasts reported that they were a sign, even the voice, of God's power. 
By the 1830s, attitudes toward the falls had acquired a quasisecular overlay: 
Niagara Palls offered a ready-made experience of nature's sublime power that 
everyone should consider as the motivation for the new nation. 1 As talisman 
of the sublime— a transcendent experience combining inspiration, awe and 
terror— the falls were available after a railway journey. But a more telling di- 
mension of this progressively conventional script is the role reserved for the 
all-too-human actor and observer as a mediator of the experience, lhe constant 
emphasis in the Niagara guidebooks and in the engravings that were available 
to be taken home as souvenirs was on the human presence that frames the 

'"Tiie prodigies of nature came lo be no touchstones of taste or emblems of the Christian God 
so much as signs of numinous power in the conlinenl ilself and in the new political order taking 
shape here" (Furtwaugler 45), 

Ihe Mind's Eye 7 

David L. Langston 

experience: the entrepreneurs who made access to the falls possible, the heroic 
boatmen who steer their craft close to the cataract and the spectators whose 
labors have brought them to witness the spectacle (McKinsey 135-55). The 
Romantic nationalist traveler of the 1830s and '40s approached the falls with 
a preformed expectation: Undergoing the ordeal of travel to witness a sublime 
event, it was therefore important to emphasize the feelings of sublimity aroused 
by the event— and the descriptions by visitors to the falls assume a formulaic 
and sentimental character. 2 

But at midcentury, the aesthetic program changed. Whereas placing human 
observers with their carriages, parasols and constructions in the foreground had 
framed— and domesticated— the representation of the falls, now, in the closing 
years of the 1 850s, the paintings of Frederic Church or Thomas H ill or De Witt 
Clinton Boutelle followed a competing convention for depicting the sublime: 
emphasizing the sheer natural energy untrammeled by any human frame or 
civilizing structure. The only human mark in Church's painting Niagara (1857) 
or Boutelle's Niagara Falls (1861) is an uninhabited decorative folly placed near 
the falls in 1833 . Thomas Hill locates the perspective of his Niagara Falls (1860) 
below the lip of the cataract where a tiny human figure, an indian, witnesses 
the unrestrained energy pouring toward him. 

Similarly, in Church's 1859 masterwork Heart of the Andes, the signs of 
human presence are attenuated by the imposing peaks that tower over them. 
Andes was only one of a large assortment of large-format landscapes that were 
placed on display in an arrangement that encouraged the spectators to become 
absorbed in the work, an aesthetic of romantic Identification much like the 
tactics to be found in IMax or Cinerama projection theaters in our own time. 
Some impresarios of these 19th-century landscape displays distributed opera glasses 
to enable spectators to get a closer— and more restricted and self-absorbing— view. 
When Heart of the Andes was first exhibited in 1 859 and thereafter on a national 
tour for several years, it was surrounded by enormous fabric drapery and screens 
that permitted only the canvas to be illuminated, and it attracted huge crowds 
who stood in line for hours to pay to view the work (Avery 52-72). 

Altering the code for representing Niagara Falls thus belongs to a larger 
move away from regarding nature as a hospitable, even maternal, presence to 
which humanity could have recourse for inspiration and solace— the reality 
that Wordsworth has in mind when he declares in "Tintern Abbey" (1798) 

! See Elizabeth McKinseys Niagara Falls: " Icon of the American Sublime" for a fulsome and more 
nuanced description of the changing attitudes inward Niagara falls. 

8 The Mind; Eye 

David L. langstan 

that "nature never betrayed the heart that loved her" — to regarding nature as a 
farrago of impersonal forces that are "red in tooth and claw" and that give no 
quarter to human motives of sympathy or altruism. 5 

Captain Ahab's indignation that the natural un iverse might be indifferent or 
even malevolent is one of the main motives for the conflict in Herman Melville's 
1851 prescient novel Moby-Dick. Stung by the knowledge that nature might 
betray the heart that loved her, Ahab, in his remonstrance during the tempest 
toward the novel's close, places him at the crossroads — or in the crosshairs — of 
this monumental shift in the cultural wisdom on the "nature of nature." 

1 own thy speechless, placeless power; but to the last gasp of my 
earthquake life will dispute its unconditional, unintegral mastery in 
me. In the midst of the personified impersonal, a personality stands 
here. Though but a point at best; whencesoe'er 1 came; wheresoe'er 
I go; yet while I earthly live, the queenly personality lives in me, 
and feels her royal rights. But war is pain, and hate is woe. Come 
in thy lowest form of love, and I will kneel and kiss thee; but at thy 
highest, come as mere supernal power; and though thou iaunchest 
navies of full-freighted worlds, there's that in here that still remains 
indifferent. (383) 

But Captain Ahab's actions are fueled not by his i ndifference but by his rage 
at an inscrutable universe (he tells Starbuck in an earlier confrontation, "That 
inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be 
the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him"). And even though 
he might now regard his own "queenly personality" as the counterweight to the 
kingly forces of indifference that are arrayed against him, he has known all along 
that his opposition and his revenge cannot be exercised by a single Individual. 
I hat project requires an adequate social organization, and one of his first moves 
on the voyage is to forge the crew into a community of purpose to master the 
forces of nature that dwarf and overwhelm the Romantic individual. 

The processes of modernity that intersect In 1 859 all intersect with Ahab's 

strategy: From the flow of grain through Chicago to the tidal energies coalescing 

for civil war, to the flow of oil from Pennsylvania to the flow of Niagara's cataract, 

the response assumed a similar contou r — create social organizations to control 

and manage those impersonal forces. All of them — Chicago's Board of Trade, 

3 Characterizingnature as "red in tooth and daw" occurs in Alfred Tennyson's "In Memoriam," and 
the phrase is often used as an analogue to Darwin's vision of natural selection as a blind process 
of endless adaptation to ever changing and often harsh or brutal circumstances- 

Jhe Mind's Eye 9 

David I. Langsten 

the conscripted mass armies of the Civil War, the city-planning commissions of 
Vienna and Paris, the professional scientific guilds that probed the mysteries of 
the biological sciences, the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing 
Company, the cartels for oil and wheat and beef that mushroomed in the last 
half of the 19th century, the labor unions, the professional associations, the cor- 
porations and mercantile combinations, the collegiate athletic programs— gave 
shape and direction to modernity that yielded a scope, authority and impact 
for modern society without historical precedent, If nature had been shown to 
be an unrestrained torrent, human organizations would respond to direct the 
torrent toward productive ends. Small wonder that lithographs and paintings 
of Niagara Falls were among the most popular forms of domestic decoration 
in the middle of the 19th century— to be supplanted three decades later by 
another icon of natural energy, Old Faithful. 

The underlying assumption in this version of modernity is that natural 
energy is not only abundant but limitless. 4 Once harnessed, natural energy 
from petroleum or hydro power or the steam engine, or eventually atomic fis- 
sion, will supply energy that is "too cheap to meter," to use a phrase that touted 
nuclear energy in its early days, For example, in Capital, Karl Marx suggests 
in his analysis of applying steam power to industrial production that steam 
engines have the potential to be linked together in a supermachine, or "au- 
tomaton." Such a development would place industry on a new plateau where 
the inexhaustible mechanical power derived from steam may one day reduce 
workers to slavelike caretakers of an inhuman mechanized monster. Modern 
industry, in other words, has at its disposal a form of power that is mobile and 
inexhaustible and requires human beings to reorganize the labor process to 
meet its demands: The "co-operative character of the labor process is in this 
case a technical necessity dictated by the very nature of the instrument of labor 
[the steam engine]" (Marx 508). 

After 150 years of repeating that story of infinite natural resources for 
modernity in hundreds of versions, contemporary observers have empirical 
reasons to doubt both its veracity and its effectiveness. A few forecasts already 
place the exhaustion of the oil supply on our time horizon, but even should that 
supply prove to be practically limitless, the social and environmental costs of 
unrestrained carbon emissions seem unsustainable, and in various corners of 

't ; ven the founding of the national parks adds an ironic twist to this narrative, 'the parks were 
founded to preserve the experience of "wildness" and "wilderness'' for future generations before 
the direct cognition of natural energy wouid be rendered unavailable by the tech nological overlay 
that exploited its power. 

10 TJte Mind's Eye 

David L. Langslon 

global society, a reexamination of the strength and viability of a key master nar- 
rative of modernity — the limitless supply of natural energy— is under way. 

• • • • 

In taking stock of the narratives of power and progress that have consti- 
tuted this collective myth of modernity, it is worth keeping in mind the range 
of meanings for the term modernity, since it belongs to a family of terms with 
which it is frequently confused. There are at least four related terms that bear 
witness to these developments: modern, modernizing, modernity and Modern- 
ism. While their meanings overlap and there is consequently a healthy debate 
over the extension of and distinctions among the terms, there are some general 
distinctions worth observing. 

Modern is an adjective that has been used since the Renaissance to distin- 
guish a recent historical development from an "ancient" idea, practice or reality. 
Its widespread distribution and imprecise boundaries thus give the term modern 
a high degree of mobility. "Modern" lighting could refer to the introduction of 
gas lamps for urban illumination in the 1 9th century, or it could refer equally 
to the substitution of light-emitting diodes for incandescent bulbs in contem- 
porary houses. The same analysis can be applied to terms such as "modern 
transportation," "modern advertising" or "modern education." "Modern" does 
not designate a specific period or historical threshold; it is instead an ever- 
moving threshold that compares a later, improved event ("modern medicine") 
with an earlier and comparatively deficient similar event or practice. 

The term modernizing, a comparable adjective, has also served a wide 
spectrum of purposes. It characterizes a society or institution (or cluster of 
institutions) in which modern developments have become a norm that mea- 
sures the quality of that organization or social practice. "We are modernizing 
the water supply" suggests that a modern water system is an ideal or norm the 
various modifications of the ductwork will seek to emulate. Equally, if citizens 
who lament the condition of education say, "We are modernizing our educa- 
tional system," they may be leveling a critique at current fashions in pedagogy 
that systematically replace older, and presumably better, ones. A modernizing 
society is one that consistently exercises a preference for modern realities over 
equivalent more established practices, habits or institutions. Modernizing also 
carries associations with the application of science and engineering to technical 
questions and the enforcement of greater equality among individuals in social 

Tile Mind's Eye 1 1 

David L. Langston 

institutions. So a "modernizing Europe," for example, characterizes a widely 
distributed set of innovations that organize and rationalize public functions 
such as transportation, septic systems, medicine, education and welfare with a 
governmental management that appeals to standards of equality and progress 
as its values. 

Some of the greatest confusions over these terms arise when applying 
the term Modernism. By contrast with the portmanteau adjectives, this noun 
identifies an international philosophical and aesthetic movement that flour- 
ished in the decades before and after World War I. Arising as a reaction to the 
stultifying intellectual and artistic milieu of the 19th century that was domi- 
nated by a dilapidated aristocracy and its fawning bourgeois camp followers, 
the modernists self-consciously adopted an aggressively oppositional stance 
to a culture Ezra Pound would eventually call "an old bitch gone in the teeth ... a 
botched civilization" ("Mauberley" 64). Rejecting the pieties of church, state 
and bourgeois conformity, the modernists sought to reanimate both art and 
life with the formless, nameless energies for which Nietzsche had used the term 
Dionysian. 'I hey considered all forms, whether artistic, social and govern men- 
tal, personal or religious, as products of that force. To borrow Henry Adams's 
typology, behind or beneath every serene Virgin symbolizing compassion and 
benevolence there was a turbulent Dynamo whose restless energy was indif- 
ferent to social decoration, personal sacrifice or self-restraint. To address a self 
that was a mask for desire or a society that was a heap of congealed fragments 
held together by force or encrusted tradition, art could (and should) stage en- 
counters with the primary creative motives and forces to refashion the world 
anew. Ezra Pound's mantra "Make It New" {Make It New) or Stephen Dedalus's 
resolve "to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge 
in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race" are serviceable 
epigrams for Modernisms critique of a modern and modernizing society that 
had lost its way (Joyce 299). Consequently, treating the modernists as though 
they were exemplars of modernizing tendencies can bewilder casual observers 
because the similarity in terminology often masks profound disagreements or 
conflicts in direction and emphasis. For Pound, "making it new" meant that lost 
or forgotten traditions would assume fresh relevance rather than be replaced 
by a newly minted "modern" concept or practice. 

Modernity is the most relevant of the terms that can be brought to bear 
on the consequences of 1859, This fourth term not only incorporates dimen- 
sions of the other terms but has the added virtue of greater historical range 

12 The Mind's Eye 

David L. Langston 

and specificity. Modernity is certainly "modern" in describing a world that 
stands on this side of a decisive threshold from an ancien regime that was more 
hierarchical, more dependent on traditional knowledge and traditional modes 
of authority and slower to accept novelty just for the sake of newness. From a 
very halting beginning in the 14th century, modernity has pressed its case on 
many fronts and profoundly reshaped the world, both literally and cognitively. 
Marshall Berman has eloquently summarized the plight into which modern ity 
has propelled us and our progeny as well: 

Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries 
of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and 
ideology: in this sense, modern ity can be said to unite all mankind. 
But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity: it pours us all into 
a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle 
and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to 
be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, "all that is solid melts 
into air." 

People who find themselves in the midst of this maelstrom are 
apt to feel that they are the first ones, and maybe the only ones, to 
be goi ng th rough it; this feeling has engendered numerous nostalgic 
myths of a pre-modern Paradise Lost. In fact, however, great and 
ever-increasing numbers of people have been going through it for 
close to five hundred years. (15-16) 

Modernity, in Berman's analysis, persistently destabilizes ideas, personal identity, 
social institutions and our prospects for the future, creating new prospects even 
as it destroys current ones. 

Modernity, then, is our name for a multidimensional transformation since 
the mid-19th century of almost every dimension of common experience— 
from pol itical institutions to international trade, to education and competence 
credentialing for the professions, to manufacturing and electrical power, to 
policing, warfare and the penal system and, finally, to the profoundly elevated 
social status of hitherto marginal groups such as women or minorities. These 
andsomany other changes have molded our contemporary social, material and 
intellectual life into an interlocking reality, each part of which depends on so 
many other dimensions of our experience for its very existence. Modernity has 
grown to define even the terms of survival for millions of people. At the same 
time, it has grown to seem monstrous to those threatened by its pervasive, all- 

The Mind's Eye 13 

David L. Langston 

encompassing pressure. 1 And even people who otherwise support modernity 
for its emancipatory potential are nonetheless troubled by its cumulative impact 
on the climate, on material resources and on the character of individual life. 

With all of these questions that circle around modernity in mind, a group 
of faculty at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts organized a set of lectures 
and presentations during 2009 to evaluate the impact arid assess the prospects 
for the culture of modernity over the past 150 years. A series of lectures and 
colloquia on the history of oil, on public education, on the implications of 
evolution, on the modern role of organized sports— and more particularly 
collegiate sports— on the global economy, on newly designed cityscapes, on 
changing standards for interpreting the Bible, on contrasting political models 
in John Brown and Abraham Lincoln and on the history of mathematics were 
all featured in a year of intellectual search and reevaluatlon of the prospects 
for modernity. These various meditations and presentations made it clear that 
the character of modernity has reached a crossroads. At the same time, we 
learned that modernity has produced a malleable social formation with cultural 
resources in depth. It would require an anthropologist's "thick description" to 
understand its multiple layers and overlapping assets for cultural reinvention 
(Geertz 3-30). We also confirmed what everyone suspected: It is impossible 
to think about the future by abandoning modernity's achievements and its 
problems, and like every effort to anticipate the future, we will doubtlessly be 
surprised. We will, against our will, find ourselves needing to cope with stunning 
vacancies, shocking arrivals, crushing departures and disconcerting epiphanies 
that none of us ever anticipated. 

'Lawrence Wright argues that the career ofSayyid Qutb, the Egyptian writer whose diatribes would 
later fuel Islamic opposition to modernity, stemmed from Qutb's sense that modernity threatened 
to overwhelm any and all alternative modes of existence: 

IQulb's] central concern was modernity. Modern values— secularism, rationality, 
democracy subjectivity, individualism, mixing of the sexes, tolerance, materialism- 
had infected Islam throught the agency of Western colonialism. ... His extraordinary 
project ... was to take apart the entire political and philosophical structure of 
modernity and return Islam to its unpolluted origins. For him. that was a state 
of divine oneness, the complete unity of God and humanity. Separation of the sacred 
and the secular, state and religion, science and theology, mind and spirit -these 
were the hallmarks of modernity, which had captured the West. But Islam could 
not abide such divisions. (28) 

14 The Minds Eye 

David L. Lanpton 

Works Cited 

Avery, Kevin J. " 'The Heart of the Andes' Exhibited: Frederic E. Church's Window 
on the Equatorial World." American Art Journal 18.1 (Winter 1986). 

Herman, Marshall. AH That Is Solid Melts into Air: "The Experience of Moder- 
nity." New York: Simon, 1982. 

Furtwangler, Albert. Acts of Discovery: "Visions of America in the Lewis and 
Clark [ournals." Urbana, U of Illinois P, 1993. 

Geertz, Clifford. "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Cul- 
ture." The Interpretation of Cultures: "Selected Essays," New York: Basic, 

Guttmann, Allen. A Whole New Ball Game: "An Interpretation of American 

Sports." Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1988. 
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Huebsch, 


Lurie, Jonathan. The Chicago Board of Trade, 1859-1905: "The Dynamics of 

Self-Regulation." Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1979. 
Marx, Karl. Capital: "A Critique of Political Economy." Trans. Ben Fowkes. New 

York: Penguin, 1976. 
McKinsey, Elizabeth. Niagara Falls: "Icon of the American Sublime." New York: 

Cambridge UP, 1985. 
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. Ed. Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker. 2nd 

ed. New York: Norton, 1999. 
Pound, Ezra. "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley." Selected Poems. New York New Direc- 

iions, 1957. 61-77. 
. Make It New: "Essays by Ezra Pound" New Haven, CI': Yale UP, 


Spiegel, Allen D., and Peter 15. Suskind. "Uncontrollable Frenzy and a Unique 
Temporary Insanity Plea." Journal of Community Health 25.2 (Apr. 
2000): 157-79. 

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: "Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/1 1." New 
York: Knopf, 2006. 

The Minds Eye 15 

Charles Darwin and the 
Problem of Modernism 


The idea of modernism is closely tied to the idea of progress. To be 
modern is to advance beyond outdated ideas, outdated customs and 
outdated tools; it is to stand at the forefront of progressive development. 
Mid- 19th-century Englishmen sometimes conceived of their own modernity as 
a product of steam technology and the great textile mills that gave them such an 
economic advantage over other human societies. Chinese or Indian civilizations 
might be more ancient, but those peoples could not match the industrial skills 
that bestowed power and wealth on Europeans. It was easy for Victorians to 
imagine that they had risen to world leadership through an almost inevitable 
process of advancement that testified to their moral and ctdtural superiority to 
other nations (Adas). Not surprisingly, when scientists began to consider theo- 
ries of biological species transmutation— by which they meant the emergence 
of higher species over time — they quite naturally associated this development 
with the signs of economic progress they saw around them. 

In the early 1 9th century, Jean Baptiste Lamarck in France (Zoological Phi- 
losophy) and the anonymous Robert Chambers in Scotland ( Vestiges) proposed 

16 The Mind's Eye 

William Montgomery 

theories of transmutation that were taken seriously by scientists and laypersons 
alike. Both theories explained the origin of new species as the result of pro- 
gressive modification of existing forms, not of individual creation. The beauty 
of these theories was that they described processes of biological advance that 
might merge seamlessly with theories of human cultural progress. If Lamarck 
and the unknown author of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation were 
right, biological development represented a natural prelude to the growth of 
enlightened understanding that gradually emerged over the course of human 
history. Although nature operated according to unconscious processes, it set 
the stage for the goal-directed ascent of human mastery that evoked so much 
cultural pride among Victorians. 

The other great theory of transmutation, that of Charles Darwin and Alfred 
Russel Wallace, implied a broad measure of progress too, but its relationship 
to human moral advancement was more problematic (Darwin and Wallace). 
Darwin's book On the Origin of Species marshaled the evidence for what came 
to be known as evolution so effectively that most scientific opponents of the 
idea in Western Europe and North America fell sdent within a decade. How- 
ever, Darwin and Wallace both identified evolution with the idea of natural 
selection, a process that seemed to reflect no moral consequence at all, simply 
the odd good fortune of being able to adapt. Both Darwin and Wallace were 
impressed by the population theorist Robert Malthus, a man who considered 
human progress very unlikely, and something of Malthus's pessimism clung to 
the idea of natural selection as well. Wallace eventually decided that the devel- 
opment of the human mind must somehow have proceeded through spiritual 
means without the intervention of selection (Shermer 158-73). Darwin argued, 
on the contrary, that human moral conduct was entirely consistent with selec- 
tion. However, despite his very idealistic vision of the modern, Darwin's logic 
of struggle and survival carried him toward the popular imperialist attitudes 
shared by many Victorians. 

The lesson that Darwin drew from Malthus concerned birth and survival; 
"[A]s more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in 
every case be a struggle for existence, either one i ndividual with another of the 
same species, or with the individuals of a distinct species, or with the physical 
conditions of life" (Origin 63). Malthus had treated birthrates as a public-policy 
issue and a moral question: Given unchecked population growth, could govern- 
ments ever really hope to eliminate human poverty? Darwin, as a naturalist, 
had a different question: How would high birthrates contribute to a struggle 

Ihe Mind's Eye 17 

William Montgomery 

for existence, and how would this struggle affect the multitude of heritable 
varialions that existed In any natural population? the effect he thought would 
be very much like the effect of a plant or animal breeders selecting favorable 
variants in an effort to reproduce the most desirable strain of organisms. Given 
enough time, such selection could establish new biological forms as exemplified 
by the many agric ultural breeds maintained by astute farmers. Unlike farmers, 
nature h ad no specific preference among natural forms; however, not all forms 
were equally prepared for survival. Those best adapted to the circumstances of 
life would thrive, reproduce and perhaps someday generate successful daughter 
forms, 'the poorly adapted would perish. 

Theldea of a struggle for existence was already well established before Darwin 
read Malthus. Scientists had even come to recognize that the struggle might lead 
to extinction for many species; however, their conception of the struggle had no 
obvious relevance for evolution. In the early 19th century, everyone assumed 
that one species might struggle with others for space and for nourishment 
Although failure in that the struggle might obliterate a species, no one thought 
that the struggle might alter the species. When Charles I.yell presented the ac- 
cepted interpretation of struggle among species in chapter S of his Principles of 
Geology, he reminded his readers of the enormous numbers of fossil remains 
testifying to the extinction of former species. He considered the possibility that 
species might be subject to some in ner deterioration or senescence causing them 
to decline and disappear over time. However, he recognized that there was no 
decisive evidence supporting such an idea and suggested instead that every 
plant occupies a natural "station" where it is able to find a climate and physical 
resources that meet its needs. At the same time, it has to confront potential 
invaders that threaten to displace it from these favorable circumstances. To 
succeed it needs not just physical resources but living allies— animals, perhaps— 
that assist it by feeding upon its rivals or larger plants that shield it from its 
own predators. Lyell noted especially the power of insects to destroy plants on 
a large scale, thus creating opportunities for other plants. By fhe same token, 
birds that destroy insects complicate the picture even further. In this way, Lyell 
depicted the relations among species as an unstable balance, always subject to 
change, bringing success now to one species and now another (128-40). 

Darwin agreed with Lyell about the impact of species on one another in 
the struggle for existence. However, he explained this process very differently. 
Instead of dwelling on the relations between one species and another, Darwin 
emphasized the relations among individuals of the same species. Thus, when 

IS The Mind's Eye 

William Montgomery 

it got cold and food was scarce, survival meant outcompeting one's fellows for 
access to limited resources. Under particularly difficult conditions, an entire 
species might become extinct, but the more common effect was for some mem- 
bers to survive by relying on their peculiar hereditary strengths. Darwin 
recognized that members of unrelated species might affect one another 
greatly; he noted the effect of predators in harming one species while 
furthering the cause of another. He even recognized the capacity of species to 
assist one another in the manner of insects' feeding on the pollen and nectar 
of flowers while carrying out the all-important task of transporting pollen 
from one flower to another. However, by concentrating on individual competi- 
tion, he redefined the concept of struggle, granting it the power to modify the 
hereditary characteristics of a species and thus transforming that species over 
time (Origin 62-70, 91-95). 

As a consequence of this struggle, nature might stand in for the breeder 
and choose, or "select," outstanding individuals to reproduce the next genera- 
tion. Breeders who favored a particular set of characteristics in their breeding 
stock and avoided matches that detracted from their goals could strengthen 
those characteristics to the point of creating a new breed or variety Darwin 
argued that nature, by destroying individuals that lacked characteristics with 
positive survival value, could do much the same — altering individuals even to 
the point of producing a new species. He did not arrive at this opinion all by 
himself: The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace proposed a very similar theory 
in 1858, making them codiscoverers. However, Darwin's backlog of research 
enabled him to outpace Wallace and produce his great book On the Origin of 
Species the following year, ft was this book that captured the imagination of 
the scientific world— at least to the extent of convincing most scientists that 
evolution had, in fact, taken place (Darwin and Wallace). 

Darwin differed from Wallace in that Darwin believed the idea of selection 
applied to domesticated animals just as it did to animals in the wild. In the very 
first chapter of On the Origin of Species, Darwin asked his readers to consider the 
Victorian hobby of breeding fancy pigeons. Most practicing breeders gathered 
at two London pigeon-breeding clubs, one for gentlemen, one for working 
men, where they could exhibit their birds and discuss their techniques. Darwin 
joined both clubs, bought birds and raised them himself. The birds exhibited 
extraordinary peculiarities of habit and appearance; and the breeders assumed 
that every breed had descended from a separate species, as well they might 
have, since the hobby extended as far back as ancient Egypt. Nevertheless, when 

The Mind's Eye 19 

William Montgomery 

Darwin crossed some of his own birds, he was able to obtain feathers that clearly 
resembled those of the common rock pigeon (Origin 20-29). He concluded 
that fancy pigeons, like other domestic breeds, were all the product of ac- 
tive selection on the part of breeders. He did not think the work had been 
done by modern experts: Many early breeders must have acted simply to 
reproduce favored animals. Still, as long as the standards of excellence were 
shared over the generations, even unconscious selection might steadily improve 
a breed over time and generate a distinctive plant or animal. Sooner or later, 
natural variation would offer breeders an opportunity to make improvements, 
and with enough time they could produce something as odd as a pouter or a 
fantail {Origin 30-43). 

Darwin also expanded the idea of selection in a way that did not occur to 
Wallace: He applied it to reproduction. In Darwin's eyes, reproductive success 
was critical to the evolution of new forms because traits that were not passed 
from one generation to the next would simply disappear. An animal or plant 
that failed to reproduce would lose out to more fecund rivals, and its distinctive 
characteristics would be lost. As a result, anj feature that assisted an animal 
or plant in reproduction would enjoy an advantage over competitors without 
that feature. Darwin was thinking of features such as bright coloration in male 
birds that seemed to have no survival benefit and, indeed, probably detracted 
from survival. If female birds preferred males with bright colors, those males 
would be more successful at reproduction and triumph over their dull-colored 
competitors even though they might suffer more frequent loss of life. The same 
consideration might apply to males that had to fight for access to females: Such 
males would benefit from horns and tusks that might be of no practical benefit 
other than to drive away other males (Origin &7-90). 

Selection had one additional function that seemed very important to Dar- 
win: It provided him with a theory of extinction. From his geological research, 
Darwin was acutely aware of the enormous numbers of extinct species pre- 
served in the fossil record. Although he knew that every species faced constant 
dangers within the environment, he did not attribute extinction primarily to 
environmental threats. Instead, he theorized that extinction must be due to the 
emergence of new species. Any successful new species would naturally com- 
pete with already existing species for the resources of life, making their place 
in nature increasingly precarious. With time, the new, better-adapted species 
would expand in numbers while older, less-well-adapted forms would decline 
and eventually disappear. In this sense, Darwin still believed in Charles Lyells 

20 The Minds Eye 

William Montgomery 

idea of a struggle between varieties and species. Selection acted not only on 
individuals but on varieties and species as well. Just as species modification 
produced new divergent species to the tree of life, it eliminated older forms, 
pruning especially those that most resembled the new successors (Origin 

Two features of Darwin's theory proved disturbing to many scientific 
observers. First, the process required no forethought or planning nor any de- 
sign as understood by natural theology. It was simply a natural consequence 
of variation and the struggle for existence carried out over millennia as the 
stresses of the natural environment pressed now one way and now another. 
Many religious scientists were quite troubled by the idea that the world might 
have come into existence and even have produced highly developed animals 
and rational human beings without the intervention of a Creator. They knew 
that the world was very old. Decades of geological research convinced them 
that the six-day creation story could not be interpreted literally, though they 
still reserved a role for God in its creation. Darwin's old teacher, the Cambridge 
geologist Adam Sedgwick, concluded his review of On the Origin of Species in 
characteristic!}' blunt language: 

But I cannot conclude without expressing my detestation of the the- 
ory, because of its unflinching materialism; — because it has deserted 
the inductive track, the only track that leads to physical truth;— 
because it utterly repudiates final causes, and thereby indicates a 
demoralized understanding on the part of its advocates. (166) 

Sedgwick was no biblical literalist, but he saw the hand of God in nature and 
expected his colleagues to see it, too. When Darwin failed to do so, Sedgwick 
rejected the Origin as both bad science and bad faith. 

Even people who agreed with Darwin's materialism found natural selec- 
tion troubling. In a letter to Frederick F.ngels, Karl Marx observed snidely, "It is 
remarkable how Darwin rediscovers, among the beasts and plants, the society 
of England with its division of labor, competition, opening up of new markets, 
'inventions' and Malthusian struggle for existence' " (38 1). Marx obviously had 
no use for Malthuss ideas, which he considered simply bourgeois propaganda 
aimed at the working poor. However, many social conservatives who abhorred 
Marx could find common ground with him when it came to the moral implica- 
tions of Darwin's theory. The Reverend Samuel Haughton, professor of geology 
at Trinity College, Dublin, observed about the idea of selection, "This notable 

■[he Mind's Eye 2\ 

William Montgomery 

argument is borrowed from Malthus's doctrine of Population, and will, no doubt, 
find acceptance with those Political Economists and Pseudo-Philosophers who 
reduce all the laws of action and human thought habitually to the lowest and 
most sordid motives" (222). 

Darwin found such assertions irritating. He complained to his friend 
Charles Lycll about a Manchester Guardian story "showing that I have proved 
'might makes right,' & therefore that Napoleon is right & every cheating Trades- 
man is also right—" (Correspondence 189). It is easy to see how the journalist 
might have drawn this conclusion, for On the Origin of Species is very firm 
about the importance of competition among members of the same species. 
To be sure, Darwin did suggest that it is "useful to the community" for bees to 
sacrifice themselves by delivering a sti ng or for a queen bee to destroy potential 
young rivals (Origin 202-03). However, he made no effort to expand on this 
point or apply the idea to human moral concerns. As far as he was concerned, 
On the Origin of Specks was all about plant and animal species, and although 
he conceded that his work might apply to humans in some sense, he made no 
specific claims about how humans dealt with the struggle for existence (488). 

A dozen years later, Darwin finally addressed the subject of human evolu- 
tion in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1981), and when 
he did so, he left no question that he believed in human moral sensibility, 
naturalistic though it might be. Darwin thought human beings had inherited 
social instincts, which, combined with human intelligence, afforded them with 
a conscience, an inner monitor encouraging behavior for the good of the com- 
munity. Animals inherited the same social instincts, though without the 
powerful assist of human intelligence (Descent 71-73). He detailed numerous 
stories by naturalists and others of animals that offered sympathy and protection 
to those of their own kind, sometimes even at individual risk (Descent 74-84). 
At the same time, he made clear that the bounds of sympathy were limited to 
family members or other creatures in the same group, not to all members of 
the species (Descent 85). This was in keeping with his essential belief tliat the 
struggle for existence always created conflicts of interest among creatures of 
the same kind. 

However, Darwin did not think that man was guided by instinct alone. 
Given the existence of basic sociability and intelligence, even primitive man 
was guided by the views of his community. In the earliest human past, the will 
of the group was frequently overridden by selfish impulses; but with the pas- 
sage of time, both sociability and intelligence grew stronger, paving the way for 

22 The Minds Eye 

WMtiam Montgomery 

the elevated moral judgment of a Kant (Descent 86). Unlike the lower animals, 
man reflected constantly on mental images; they were inescapable marks of 
his human status. On any given occasion, he may behave well or badly, but 
when he behaves badly, he must contend with the memory of the event and his 
continued discomfort at his own failure to come up to the standards of com- 
munity judgment. "Man will then feel dissatisfied with himself, and will resolve 
with more or less force to act differently for the future, This is conscience; for 
conscience looks backward and judges past actions " (Descent 91). . . . 

Darwin's discussion of conscience relates to the criticism he often received 
from religious critics such as Sedgwick and Haughton. They considered his 
theory a threat to faith, propaganda for an amoral materialism lhat offered no 
obstacles to crass selfishness. To be sure, Darwin discussed ethics largely in 
secular terms. He tended to neglect religious admonitions regarding proper 
conduct except for an occasional criticism of what he took to be unreasonable 
superstition on the part of non-Christian believers. However, his discussion 
of conscience made clear that he took moral judgment and moral behavior 
seriously. He recognized that admirable behavior rested on a substrate of in- 
herited instinct, something we share with our animal forebears; but he went on 
to emphasize the importance of personal reflection and social criticism as the 
basis of moral conduct. As far as human conduct was concerned, we thought 
we owed our virtues to the collective standards of our community and our 
willingness to examine ourselves and face up to our shortcomings. 

Darwin thought that among primitive people, conscience functioned 
largely for the benefit of one s own tribe; and he described at some length the 
kind of violence and cruelty that primitive people sometimes directed at outsid- 
ers. He also considered them licentious. In all, he thought that the restriction 
of sympathy to members of one's own tribe along with weak reasoning and 
limited self-control were responsible for the immorality of savages, people 
lodged at the earlier stages of human development (Descent 97). With time, 
however, human behavior continued to improve: 

13 ut as man gradually advanced in intellectual power and was enabled 
to trace the more remote consequences of his actions; as he acquired 
sufficient knowledge to reject baneful customs and superstitions; as 
he regarded more and more not only the welfare but the happiness 
of his fellow-men; as from habit, following on beneficial experience, 
instruction, and example, his sympathies became more tender and 
widely diffused, so as to extend to the men of all races, to the imbecile, 

'Ihe Mind's Eye 23 

William Montgomery 

the maimed, and other useless members of society, and finally to the 
lower animals, — so would the standard of his morality rise higher 
and higher. (Descent 103) 

Darwin did not invent all these ideas; many of them were, in fact, the 
standard fare of an important school of English anthropologists who emerged 
in the 1860s. Inspired partly by new archaeological discoveries and partly by 
reports from Europeans (including Darwin himself) who had traveled abroad, 
these anthropologists proposed a progressive history for mankind that went well 
beyond the idea of progress common among Enlightenment philosophes and 
liberal ideologues. 1 hat idea was based mostly on historical accounts detailing 
the rise ofsecular rationalism and representative government within European 
experience. In the 1860s, John Lubbock, Edward B. Tylor and John McLennan 
redefined the idea on a worldwide scale and extended it back in time to a point 
for which the only remaining evidence was stone tools and skeletons. By the 
1830s, European geologists had developed techniques for dating geological 
strata relative to one another. Soon evidence began to appear in Britain, France, 
Germany and Switzerland that humans might have lived well before any known 
civilization. Indeed, in 1858, while Darwin was still composing On the Origin 
of Species, British quarry workers discovered a cave that contained remarkable 
stone tools embedded among bones of animals long extinct anywhere in Europe 
(Stocking 72-74). 

Before long, Darwin's friend and neighbor John Lubbock was intently 
studying early remains of human settlement and activity both in England 
and on the Continent. Lubbock coined the terms "paleolithic" and "neolithic" 
to designate earlier and later stages of Stone Age man, a designation based 
principally on improvements in the quality of stone tools. However, when it 
came to describing the lives of prehistoric people, he did not slop with fossil 
evidence. He combed the accounts of modern travelers, those who had visited 
the world's most primitive peoples, for information about thei r customs, beliefs 
and possessions. Lubbock regarded these isolated peoples as stand-ins for the 
ancient ancestors of the entire human race, and drew his conclusions about 
early human life from their simple circumstances and conduct. The portrait 
he drew was not always flattering. Early people had little control over nature 
and, as a result, lived short, squalid lives. Understandi ng little of the worl d, they 
contented themselves with crude superstitions and treated one another with 
brutish incivility. It was an unattractive image of early man, not one that most 

24 The Mind's Rye 

William Montgomery 

people would happily select for an ancestor. Within a few years, though, Lubbock 
reconsidered his initial negative account to remove some of the darker claims. 
His new image of early man was still primitive but no longer brutish. Even at 
that early time, people were capable of basic rationality and moral reflection. 
They were not animals but men and they shared with one another a common 
potential for further progress (Stocking 150-56). 

Lubbock was soon joined by two other investigators who shared his 
assumption that they could reconstruct the path of human progress by com- 
parisons among still-living populations. Edward Burnett Tylor arranged the 
Australians, Tahitians, Aztecs, Chinese and Italians in a hierarchy of ascending 
cultural achievement. At every stage, he thought that remnants, or "survivals," 
of earlier customs still persisted, providing the investigator with guides to the 
earlier history of the group. He considered folklore a particularly useful example 
of such survivals, and he combed European folklore for hints about the rise of 
what he took to be the world's most advanced peoples (Stocking 156-63). John 
McLennan took a slightly different approach. Instead of the broad comparison 
of customs undertaken by Tylor, he chose to focus on a single important group 
of customs, those relating to marriage and reproduction. McLennan assumed 
that among the earliest humans there was no marriage and people mated pro- 
miscuously. Since parentage would be recognizable only through the mother, a 
system of polyandry would emerge. Polygamy and monogamy came only later 
as tribal organization was better established. These ideas provided a framework 
lor cultural progress overall (Stocking 164-69). 

The new anthropology shared important assumptions with Christian tradi- 
tion, and John Lubbock remained a faithful member of the Church of England 
to the end of his days. His anthropological belief in a common primitive past 
for all peoples matched the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Not 
only did they spring from common parents but Lubbock's primitives were a 
sinful lot, given to murder, cannibalism and promiscuity. Once they began to 
improve themselves, they adopted patriarchy and eventually even monogamy, 
just the sort of life that an Anglican vicar or his respectable landholding 
neighbor might recommend. It was a vision that a Christian modernist might 
embrace, consistent with the most recent scientific evidence and yet evocative 
of beloved scriptural authority. 

Not all believers agreed with Lubbock's happy interpretation of the human 
past. George Douglas Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, spoke for many Christians 
when he rejected Lubbock's depiction of early humans as unwashed primitives. 

The Mind's Eye 25 

William Montgomery 

Argyll believed fervently in natural theology. In his opinion, every feature 
of living beings was uniquely crafted by God for the benefit of those beings 
(Gillespie 93-104). Consequently, in 1868, he felt obliged to reply to Lubbock 
in a series of articles that was later collected in a short book (1873). Argyll was 
not a biblical literalist; indeed, he willingly sacrificed the popular creationist 
notion that the world was only a few thousand years old; and throughout his 
debate with Lubbock, he made every effort to offer an account of the human 
past that would square with the evidence. He was even willing to entertain the 
possibility of human evolution, but he insisted that the first true humans must 
have been farmers and herders, just as they are presented in Genesis. They could 
not have been the naked hunter-gatherers that Lubbock had in mind. 

Argyll's case against traditional biblical chronology rested on the hard 
facts of human racial difference. If the creation took place only a few thousand 
years ago, how could the human races have evolved? After all, no one had ever 
seen evidence that residence in a tropical climate had the least effect on the 
skin color or facial features of Europeans. Any change of that kind must have 
taken place exceedingly slowly. In fact, ancient Egyptian illustrations, drawn 
in biblical times, depicted black Africans who looked identical to the Africans 
of Argyll's own time. There was a possible explanation for this fact, and some- 
anthropologists urged that the different races had all been created separately, 
that they were actually separate species. This polygenist interpretation of the 
human past was often advanced by physicians and anatomists as a justifica- 
tion for African slavery; however, it required them to repudiate the Genesis 
story, and Argyll refused to touch it. He opted instead to accept the far older 
chronology of the human past that geologists had discovered, a chronology 
that John Lubbock had also endorsed. This allowed him to preserve the spirit 
of the biblical creation story with its message of a common humanity while 
explaining the human races as the products of a slow modification extending 
back into geological time (Argyll 97-107, 124-28). 

Regardless of his opinion of chronology, Argyll did believe in a Garden of 
Eden: In his opinion, the first humans must have evolved— or been set down- 
— in the world's most bountiful lands, In contrast, he claimed that most modern 
primitives inhabited distant, inhospitable lands with few resources to sustain 
civilization, which led him to conclude that they must be survivors of weak 
tribes that had been driven from more favorable territory by stronger groups. 
The Inuit in the far north struck him as the ideal type of such failed tribes, 
people clinging to the only piece of continental landmass they could call their 

26 The Mind's Eye 

William Montgomery 

own simply because no one else wanted it. Argyll thought Fuegians, living at 
the southern tip of South America, were another failed tribe; and he backed 
his argument by wickedly reproducing almost every detail of Charles Darwin's 
own description of their grim existence. Lubbock thought such people must 
have been stalled in such situations by difficult environments that blocked their 
advance. Argyll insisted that it made just as much sense to assume that they 
had declined from a better life when they were forced into these environments 
(Argyll 155-74; Darwin Voyage Cli. 10). 

The dustup between Lubbock and Argyll put Darwin in an awkward spot 
Lubbock was his friend and loyal follower, while Argyll believed in natural theol- 
ogy. However, Darwin had reservations about progress that paralleled those 
of Argyll, doubts that centered on John F. McLennan's rather speculative 
theory of marriage, Darwin was aware that some primitive tribes practiced 
polygamy, and he was likewise aware of even very primitive people who seemed 
monogamous. Indeed, given male jealousy, he was really quite doubtful whether 
communal marriage could survive at ail, among either primates or humans. 
A faithful husband and father often children, he may have felt uncomfortable 
with the risque hypo thesis of the anthropologists. As a biologist, keenly aware 
of the competitive struggle for reproductive success, he thought the idea just 
did not make evolutionary sense. Savages might be licentious, but they were 
not promiscuous. The distinction— almost no distinction at all in common 
usage — was enormously important to Darwin, for it rested on the difference 
between cooperative and competilive behavior. He considered successful 
reproduction so great a prize that it must have led to a struggle. After all, why 
did male primates have such big teeth, and why did they use these teeth so 
freely to threaten one another? Since primates exhibited both monogamy and 
polygamy, just as humans do, these were the only plausible starting points for 
subsequent human progress (Descent 358-63). 

By the time Darwin got through with McLennan's — and Lubbock's — theory, 
human progress began to look like a far more modest achievement. Competitive 
struggle was fundamental to his theory, and it applied to humans and animals 
alike. At the same time, Darwin had no use for Argyll's static vision of racial 
degeneration. He was willing to concede that the Fuegians might have been 
driven into their bleak homeland by more powerful neighbors, but he could not 
see that their culture was any more primitive than that of the Botocudos, who 
were comfortably ensconced in lush Brazil. Darwin fully accepted McLennan 
and Tylors argument that civilized people everywhere retained cultural traces 

The Minds Eye 27 

William Montgomery 

of their barbarian past, and he was especially impressed by the isolated civiliza- 
tions of Mexico and Peru, which could only have been home grown (Descent 
181-84). Darwin was not a creationist, and he required genuine progress to 
account for the very obvious moral capacities of civilized people. Somehow 
or other, competitive human beings must have learned to sacrifice personal 
advantage in favor of the needs of others. To explain this progress, Darwin 
simply reminded his readers that selection applied to groups and not simply 
to individuals. 

When two tribes of primeval man, living in the same country, came 
into competition, if the one tribe included (other circumstances be- 
ing equal) a greater number of courageous, sympathetic, and faithful 
members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to 
aid and defend each other, this tribe would without doubt succeed 
best and conquer the other. (Descent 162} 

The difficulty of such a process was obvious. No matter how successful 
the morally superior tribe might become, its most moral members would nev- 
ertheless perish in larger numbers than their more ordinary companions. In 
the end, there would be no way to sustain the group success. However, Darwin 
thought he saw two possible solutions to this problem, First, as humans became 
more intelligent and observant, they might notice that favors granted to others 
might lead to favors received in return. Thus, over time, charitable acts would 
be repeated more often and the habit of charity would eventually be inherited 
and passed on to the next generation. Second, and more important, the praise 
and blame of the community might encourage good behavior even more ef- 
fectively than the exchange of favors. When members of the tribe praised one 
another for generous deeds and criticized one another for selfish ones, they 
could be sure that good behavior would follow all around. 

Ultimately a highly complex sentiment, having its first origin in the 
social insti nets, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, 
ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious 
feelings, confirmed by instruction and habit, all combined, constitute 
our moral sense or conscience. (Descent 165-66) 

So far, so good, but the consequences of moral improvement were not un i- 
versally beneficent. "When civilised nations come into contact with barbarians 
the struggle is short, except where a deadly climate gives its aid to the native 

28 The Mind's Eye 

William Montgomery 

race" (Descent 238). The inferior moral customs of tribal people put them at 
a disadvantage; furthermore, they frequently succumb to disease. Europeans, 
who once feared barbarians, now have little to worry about, for the advances 
of European civilization protect them. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin had 
emphasized that the struggle for existence was not so much a struggle against 
the environment as a struggle among members of the same species to extract a 
living from that environment. However, he did not stop there. In his discussion 
of extinction, he made clear that an equivalent struggle also took place among 
varieties and species. Competition with rivals, not climatic extremes, was the 
principal threat (74-79, 1 09-26) . By that logic, the struggle between tribes and 
races brings on human extinction, with the weak and backward giving way to 
the strong and modern (Descent 236-40). 

Darwin had witnessed the war of extermination carried out in Argentina 
against the native Indians, and he found it appalling (Voyage 95-100). At the 
same time, he tended to view such atrocities passively, regardi ng them as natural 
phenomena. His own theorizing distorted his response. When his moral opti- 
mism collided with his theoretical insights, it was the optimism that gave way 
(Brantlinger 164-70; Desmond and Moore 146, 149-51 , 318), The resuslt was 
an odd contradiction. Darwin thought human moral progress would generate 
respect for people of all races. His family was devoted to the abolitionist cause, 
his evolutionary books contained hostile remarks about slavery and he sided 
with the North in the American Civil War (Desmond and Moore). Neverthe- 
less, he seemed quite resigned to the idea that many racial groups might die 
out or, worse yet, be exterminated by European settlement. In his theoretical 
scheme, Europeans behaved ruthlessly, not despite their modernity but because 
of it. Their moral awareness made them powerful— and they sometimes used 
their power for immoral ends, 

Darwin's attempt to explain human morality drew hi m into an unpleasant 
tangle of paradox and self-contradiction. He had steered clear of the topic in 
On the Origin of Species simply by avoiding the subject of human beings alto- 
gether, but his critics would not allow him to duck the question. Unfortunately, 
the solution he offered in Tke Descent of Man created as many problems as it 
solved. By retaining [yell's concept of a struggle for existence that proceeded at 
the level of races and species, he found himself making comparisons between 
more advanced and less advanced peoples, comparisons that echoed common 
Victorian attitudes about progress, technology and modernity. Worst of all, he 
undercut his own strong belief in the essential unity of man by conceding that 

The Mind's Eye 29 

William Montgomery 

some men had fallen so far behind in the march to modernity that they could 
not be rescued. Their fate was sealed, and the grim angel of natural selection 
would sweep them away. It was, sadly, a conclusion not so different from that 
of his opponent Argyll. 

Scientists who disliked Darwin's theory usually pointed to Robert Malthus 
as a negative moral influence on Darwin's thinking. After all, Maltbus's theory 
of population offered an explanation for overpopulation that led both Darwin 
and Wallace to belief in a constant state of natural struggle among organisms. 
Both men gave Malthus credit for this contribution, yet we need to be careful 
about how Darwin, in particular, made use of Malthus's idea. Darwin thought 
overpopulation created competition among members of the same species, 
leading lo gradual change as useful modifications took place and unmodified 
forms disappeared, However, he also thought competition took place among 
similar varieties and species, leading eventually to extinction for one form or 
another, Extinction was the result, not simply of overpopulation but of progress, 
the emergence of new and improved fo rms. This linkage between progress and 
extinction was the truly raw element in Darwin's thinking; and it was this ele- 
ment that made him a bad influence on imperialists abroad. For the modern 
to come about, the primitive often had to fade away. 

Works Cited 

Adas, Michael. Machines as the Measure of Men: "Science, Technology, and 
Ideologies of Western Dominance." Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1989. 

Argyll, George Douglas Campbell, Duke of. Primeval Man: "An Examination of 
Some Recent Speculations" 1873. Reprint. N.p. Bibliobazaar, n.d. 

Brantli nger, Patrick. Dark Vanishings: "Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive 
Races, 1800-1930." Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2003. 

Chambers, Robert. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and Other Evo- 
lutionary Writings. 1844. Ed. James A. Secord, Chicago: U of Chicago 
P, 1994. 

Darwin, Charles. 'Ihe Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. 8. Ed. Frederick 

Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 
■ TTie Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. 1 87 1 . Princeton, 

NJ: Princeton UP, 1981. 
■ On the Origin of Species. 1859. New York: Atheneum, 1967. 

30 The Mind's Eye 

William Montgomery 

. The Voyage of the Beagle. 1845. New York: Dutton, 1967. 

Darwin, Charles, and Alfred Wallace. "On the Tendency of Species to Form 

Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural 

Means of Selection." The Collected Papers of Charles Darwin. 1 858. Vol. 

2. Ed. Paul H. Barrett. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1977. 3-19. 
Desmond, Adrian, and James Moore. Darwin's Sacred Cause: "How a Hatred 

of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution." Boston: 

Houghton, 2009. 

Gillespie, Neal C. Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation. Chicago: U of 
Chicago P, 1979. 

Haughton, Samuel. "Biogenesis." Darwin and His Critics: "The Reception of 
Darwin's Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community." Ed. David 
L. Hull. Cambridge, MA; Harvard UP, 1973. 217-27. 

Hull, David L„ ed. Darwin and His Critics: "The Reception of Darwin's Theory 
of Evolution by the Scientific Community." Cambridge, MA; Harvard 
UP, 1973. 

Lamarck, J. B. Zoological Philosophy: "An Exposition with Regard to the Natural 
History of Animals." 1809. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984. 

Lubbock, John. "On the Origin of Civilization and the Primative Condition of 
Man." Part II. Report of the J hirty-Ninth Meeting of the British Association 
for the Advaneement of Science Held in Exeter in August 1869. 137-51. 

Lyell, Charles. Principles of Geology; "or, the Modern Changes of the Earth and 
Its Inhabitants Considered as Illustrative of Geology" 9th ed. New York: 
Appleton, 1853. 

Malthas, Robert. An Essay on the Principle of Population. 1798.2 vols. Intro. W. 
T. Layton. London: Dent, 1914. 

Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. Collected Works. Vol.41. New York: Interna- 
tional, 1985. 380-81. 

[Sedgwick, Adam.] "Objections to Mr. Darwins Theory of the Origin of Spe- 
cies." Darwin and His Critics: "The Reception of Darwins Theory of 
Evolution by the Scientific Community." Ed. David L. Hull. Cambridge, 
MA: Harvard UP, 1973. 159-66. 

Shermer, Michael. In Darwins Shadow: "The Life and Science of Alfred Russel 
Wallace." New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 

Stocking, George W, Jr. Victorian Anthropology. New York: Free P, 1 987. 

The Mind's Eye il 

The Slave Auction 

The Slave Auction was sculpted in 1859 by John Rogers, who was born in Sa- 
lem, Massachusetts. The sculpture depicts an African-American man and an 
African-American woman with her children being auctioned off as property 
to potential owners. The woman seems to be desperately holding on to her 
children for fear that they might become separated, which was common in 
the selling of slaves, 

Courtesy of the New York Historical Society 

32 The Mind's Eye 

Flesh of John Browns Flesh: 
2 December 1859 


We knew the roles and punishments 
three lashes for lack of diligence, 
eight for disobeying mother 

or telling lies. ... Wo blood, he'd say, 
and no remission. Came a day 

as at a store. And came another 
he called me to the tannery: 
a Sunday, day of settlement. 

I'd paid one-third the owed amount 
when he, to my astonishment, 
handed the blue-beech switch to me. 

Always, the greatest of my fears 
were not his whippings, but his tears, 
and he was tearful now. I dared 

not disobey, nor strike him hard. 
"I will consider a weak blow 
no blow at all, rather a show 

The Mind's Eye 33 

Geoffrey Brock 

of cowardice," he said. No blood 
and no remission. Thus he paid 
himself the balance that I owed, 

our mingled blood a token of 

a thing that went unnamed: his love. 

This nation, too, is his bad child, 

fails him utterly, drives him wild 

with rage and grief and will be scourged 

nearly to death before she, purged, 

may rise and stand. No blood, I hear 
him saying still, and no remission. 
So hang him today, Virginia; cheer 

his body swaying in the air — 
tomorrow you will learn what's true: 
hanging's a thing he's done for you. 

"Flesh of John Browns Flesh: 2 December 1859" by Geoffrey Brock first published in Subtropic 
(spring/summer 2006). Copyright © 2006 by the author. Used by permission. 

34 The Mind's Eye 

Left with Lincoln: 

The Lessons of John Brown and the Civil War for Barack 
Obama and the 21st Century 


Our subject is Modernity and whether or not it is sustainable, which 
I take to mean whether or not it is relevant and viable in the 21st 
century. Our year is 1859. In the final months of that year, radical 
antislavery activist John Brown was tried, convicted and hanged by the Com- 
monwealth of Virginia for a variety of crimes committed in his seizure of the 
Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Seizure of the arsenal was part of 
Brown's plan to lead a slave insurrection centered in the Appalachian Moun- 
tains, Two years earlier, Brown had directed the cold-blooded murder of five 
proslavery men at Pottawatomie Creek in "Bleeding Kansas" and had won fame 
in the North by resisting a superior force of "Border Ruffians" at Osawatomie, 
Kansas, becoming known as "Osawatomie Brown." Yet it was through the events 
at Harpers Ferry that Brown entered history and legend. These events helped 
galvanize and polarize public opinion, North and South, and so also helped 
bring about secession and eventual civil war after the election of Abraham 
Lincoln to the presidency less than a year after the hanging of Brown. Thus, 
in reconsidering Brown on the sesquicentennial of his martyrdom, we should 
probably have occasion to reconsider Lincoln as well. 

The Mind's Eye 35 

Mark D. Miller 

However, as fate, chance or Providence would have it, the sesquicenten- 
nial of Brown's death is also the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, and so the 
whole country is engaged in a yearlong celebration and reconsideration of its 
16th president. Moreover, in January of this year, we inaugurated as our 44th 
president another tall, lanky son of Illinois, Barack Obama, our first African - 
American president. From the announcement of his candidacy on the steps of 
the old statehouse in Springfield, Illinois, to his taking the oath of office with his 
hand on the same Bible used by Abraham Lincoln, to his forming of a cabinet 
along the Lincolnesque lines described by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book 
Team of Rivals, Barack Obama has very self-consciously and explicitly associ- 
ated himself with Lincoln. In these symbolic gestures, as well as in his book 'The 
Audacity of Hope, Obama has also announced himself to be, like Lincoln— and 
unlike John Brown— a philosophical and political pragmatist. This raises the 
question: Is a Lincolnesque pragmatism adequate to the stormy present? If 
so, then at least this aspect of the Modern era will prove to be sustainable in 
the 2 1st century. "Of the Modern era," but not necessarily of Modernity, for in 
m any ways, pragmatism is more classical or, in America, neoclassical in teinper 
than Modern. On the other hand, perhaps the Modern era began in 1776. 

American pragmatism was first articulated in a series of papers published 
in the 1870s by Charles Sanders Peirce, who graduated from Harvard College 
during our focus year, 1859. However, as William James notes in Pragmatism, 
Peirce's pragmatic maxim, which James calls "the principle of Peirce, the principle 
of pragmatism . . ., lay entirely unnoticed by anyone for twenty years" (29), until 
James himself began using andpopularizingthe term in 1898. The third person most 
readily associated with pragmatism, John Dewey, was bom in that annus mirabilis, 1859, 
and lived until 1952. Thus, pragmatism is essentially a turn-of-fhe-century philosophy 
that achieved its greatest currency in die early 20th century. 

However, James called it, in the subtitle to Pragmatism, "A New Name 
for Some Old Ways of Thinking," to which we might add, "Some Old Ways 
of Feeling, Believing and Acting." Indeed, James seems most accurate not in 
calling pragmatism a "method" or a "theory of truth" but, rather, "an attitude of 
orientation" (32), a "temperament" (11, 31). It is a stance toward life and a guide 
in the conduct of life. This becomes clear as we look closely at the pragmatic 
maxim, the basis of pragmatism. 

Peirce's original statement of the maxim is characteristically cumbersome 
and obscure; "Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical 
bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our concep- 

36 The Mind's Eye 

Mark D. Miller 

lion of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object" (258). James's 
paraphrase, pared down a bit, is as follows: "To attain perfect clearness in our 
thoughts of an object, ... we need only consider what conceivable effects of a 

practical kind the object may involve Our conception of these effects ... is 

then for us the whole of our conception of the object . . ." (29). Rather than the 
phrase "effects of a practical kind," James elsewhere uses the more economical 
phrase "practical consequences" (28), so that the whole of our conception of 
an object may be said to be our conception of the conceivable practical con- 
sequences of that object. That is, our conception of the conceivable practical 
consequences of an object is the truth of that object, for us. 

The word practical is crucial here, in part because it is the source of much 
misunderstanding and distortion of pragmatism, Giving a "history of the idea" 
in the book that bears its name, [ames first observes that the wordpragmafom is 
"derived from the same Greek word meaning action, from which our words 
'practice' and 'practical' come." He then cites Peirce's first use of the word in 
1878, explaining that "Mr. Peirce, after pointing out that our beliefs are really 
rules for action, said that to develope [sic] a thought's meaning, we need only 
determine what conduct it is fitted to produce: that conduct is for us its sole 
significance" (28-29). Pragmatism thus focuses on the cutting edge of action as 
being that place where meaning resides, where significance emerges. Practical 
consequences are actions. 

But "practical consequences" may also be taken to mean the conse- 
quences of our actions, the new circumstances arising from the actions we 
take. Moreover, as James observes, there is a constant influx of "novelties in the 
world" (60), consisting not only of the consequences of our actions but also 
of natural phenomena, some of which may themselves be the consequences 
of our actions — such as the birth every day of new actors or, on a grand, cu- 
mulative scale, global climate change — but some of w^hich are quite out of our 
control. As circumstances change, we have new bases for action — new objects 
of thought— in an ever-unfolding or ever-evolving interplay of conception and 
action, conception and action. Indeed, that which today is adjudged to be, on 
the whole, a good new thing— the internal combustion engine, for instance- 
may tomorrow be adjudged to be, on the whole, a bad old thing, best reduced 
in its effects, if not entirely eliminated. As Abraham Lincoln famously put it 
near the end of his "Annual Message to Congress" in 1 862, "As our case is new, 
so must we think anew, and act anew" (269), 

Just as crucial as the word practical, however, is the word that modifies 

The Mind's Eye 37 

Mark D. Miller 

it in the pragmatic maxim, conceivable: The truth of an object of thought is 
its conceivable practical consequences. The word points to our tragic human 
limitations and so indicates an important aspect of pragmatism as an attitude 
of orientation. For a variety of reasons, we can rarely see — or conceive of— all 
the practical consequences of an event or action. They are inconceivable to us. 
Before the Civil War, for instance, two experienced m ilitary men, one Northern 
and one Southern, tried to tell their countrymen that they had no idea what they 
were getting themselves into and urged them to continue seeking solutions short 
of war. As Shelby Foote points out in an interview in The Civil War, William 
Tecumseh Sherman was "actually judged to be insane for making predictions 
about casualties which were actually low" (265). Sam Houston encountered 
similar incredulity. People simply couldn't conceive of loss on that scale. 

Plurality and complexity also impede conceivability. Even a single con- 
ception usually has multiple practical consequences— several possible courses 
of action— each of which may, in turn, have multiple unforeseeable effects. 
Moreover, we generally entertain, at any one time, not a single conception but 
a whole host of conceptions, each with its own set of conceivable practical con- 
sequences, and where these consequences conflict, so, too, do the conceptions. 
Thus, we can easily make the pragmatic maxim plural, as James in fact does 
when he indicates that our "conception" of an object may consist of multiple 
"thoughts." Indeed, given the dynamism and plurality of our conceptions and 
of their conceivable practical consequences, truth itself must also be a dynamic 
and pluralistic thing. If so, is it even accurate to speak of the truth? An d if it 
is, how do we come to know this truth? 

Perhaps we can answer the former question by first answering the latter. 
Accordi ng to Pence, "Experience is our only teacher. ... [T] hat which experience 
does is gradually, and by a sort of fractionation, to precipitate and filter off the 
false ideas, eliminating them and letting the truth pour on in its mighty current" 
(37). There is a catch, however — a tragic, ironic catch: The "fractionation" may 
happen suddenly and literally to the individual undergoing the experience, 
and the cost of such experience may be death. Again, the Civil War provides a 
fitting example of this costly shock of recognition. In "The March into Virginia," 
a poem about the battle of First Manassas included in his 1866 volume, Battk- 
Pieces, Herman Melville describes the "ignorant impulse" of those literal and 
figurative "boys" who, spurning "precedent / And warnings of the wise," such as 
Sherman and Houston, march into the battle "in Bacchic glee." Melville ends 
the poem: 

38 The Mind's Eye 

Murk D. Miller 

But some who this blithe mood present, 

As on in lightsome files they fare, 
Shall die experienced ere three days are spent— 

Perish, enlightened by the vollied glare; 
Or shame survive, and, like to adamant, 

The throe of Second Manassas share. 


Those who survive the carnage of First Manassas as well as the mortal 
"shame" of the ignominious retreat are strengthened by experience to endure 
further experience, as tempering fires strengthen adamantine steel- For the 
others, the truth "Of battles unknown mysteries" (96) may have been learned, 
but the enlightenment coincided with their deaths, either literal or figurative. 
In the case of literal death, no further experience that we know of will ensue. 
(If it does, then life is, indeed, a "vale of soul-making," as John Keats describes 
it, and the costly lesson is not entirely lost after all.) In the case of figurative 
death, the lesson has been so shattering that the pupil may be unfit for further 
learning from the Great Teacher, experience. This would be a kind of living 
death. Of course, it is not only war that thus traumatizes people. 

'Ihe cost of experience, particularly an experience such as the American 
Civil War, gives us another rea'son the pragmatic maxim emphasizes conceivable 
practical consequences. Is it really necessary to experience a thing to know the 
truth of it? Shouldn't we be able to extrapolate from other experiences— from 
"precedent," to use Melville's word— to decide whether or not a given concep- 
tion is a good idea? Couldn't we engage in an imaginative enactment of it to 
discover an idea's "truth value," to use a Jamesian phrase? Take the concept 
of all -out nuclear war, for instance. Perhaps the only practical consequence of 
that concept we need actually to experience is the act of not engaging in it. This 
example highlights an aspect of pragmatism that we would now call existential; 
Even inaction is a kind of action— a practical consequence— and it may be that, 
in a given instance, such inaction is the best course of conduct. 

Our apparent inability to learn from the past, to learn the lessons of his- 
tory, is not the only challenge to the authority of experience as a teacher. From 
a variety of impulses, human beings seem to have an almost limitless capacity 
to hold on to misconceptions, despite all the harsh lessons of experience and 
all the harsh judgments of our fellow human beings to the contrary. In his essay 
'"[he Fixation of Belief," Peirce calls this "the method of tenacity" (235). One of 
the most terrifying images of this tendency and its consequences is Sophocles's 

Ihe Mind's Eye i9 

Mark D. Miller 

Oedipus Rex, Even at the end of that play, after all he has endured and forced 
others to endure, Oedipus remai ns blind to the truth of his impious and prideful 
attitude toward life, an attitude summed up in the Greek word hubris. The prag- 
matic attitude is summed up in Oedipus's foil in the play, Creon, who displays 
virtues arising from that very different orientation: reason, circumspection, 
humility, empathy and temperance. The play reminds us that pragmatism is, 
indeed, a new name for some very old ways of thinking, believing, feeling and 
acting. It also suggests that the coercive nature of experience has the force of 
ultimate reality— what the Greeks called Fate and what others call God— even 
though we may try to ignore, resist or evade it, and even though, as free agents 
whose actions have real consequences in the world, wc to some degree make our 
own reality. Lincoln liked to describe this force using lines from Shakespeare: 
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will." 

Experience — reality — is coercive, but it is not fixed, It changes. Conse- 
quently, truth also changes, for truth is a relation between us and reality. As 
William lames says, "Truth is made, just as health, wealth and strength are made, 
in the course of experience" (104). Here is how he sums up the activity: 

fa the realm of truth-processes facts come independently and 
determine our beliefs provisionally. But these beliefs make us act, 
and as fast as they do so, they bring into sight or into existence new 
facts which re- determine the beliefs accordingly. So the whole coil 
and ball of truth, as it rolls up, is the product of a double influence. 
Truths emerge from facts; but they dip forward into facts again and 
add to them; which facts again create or reveal new truth (the word is 
indifferent) and so on indefinitely. The "facts" themselves meanwh ile 
are not true. They simply are. Truth is the function of the beliefs that 
start and terminate among them. (108) 

This summary of the "vtri-fication" and "valid-arion" process, as James would 
call it (97), reveals much about pragmatism as an attitude of orientation. Ac- 
cording to James, the pragmatist 

turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, 
from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and 
pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and 
adequacy, towards facts, towards action, and towards power. That 
means the empiricist temper regnant, and the rationalist temper 

40 The Modi Eye 

Mark D. WOtf 

sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, 
as against dogma, artificiality and the pretence of finality in truth. 

That Abraham Lincoln was a pragmatist before the new name for that old 
attitude of orientation had been coined has been noted repeatedly in the years 
since the name gained currency. In his book Tfie Legacy of the Civil War, for 
example, Robert Penn Warren observes that "More than one historian has found 
in Lincoln the model of the pragmatic mind," and he then proceeds to quote 
two such historians and a philosopher by way of support, 'fhe philosopher is 
the "modern pragmatist" Sidney Hook, who, Warren explains, "finds the core" 
of Lincoln's philosophy in his "whole course of action, even more fully than 
in his words." According to Hook, " 'To be principled without being fanatical, 
and flexible wilhout being opportunistic, summarizes the logic and ethics of 
pragmatism in action' "(17-18). "Fanatical" is one of the words most often ap- 
plied to John Brown, one of Lincoln's foils in the tragedy of the years leading 
up to the American Civil War. 

However, with his focus— quite literally— on the culling edge of action, 
Brown also stands as a possible rebuke to pragmatism. Brown was an absolut- 
ist who considered himself "'an instrument in the hands of Providence.'" As 
Merrill D. Peterson points out in !ohn Brown: "The Legend Revisited," he was 
so devoted to his mission of eradicating slavery from the land that he "steadily 
lost confidence in abolitionists who were unprepared to act. "These men are 
all talk,'" he said of them. '"What is needed is action— action!'" (3, 7). From a 
pragmatic point of View, if talk is conception merely (which it is not, as we shall 
see), then talk without action is meaningless. Brown simply felt that no further 
talk was necessary. The idea-the ideal— was absolutely clear. 

Sn The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama observes that "the framework of 
our Constitution" is designed to "organize the way by which we argue about our 
future" and "to force us into a conversation, a 'deliberative democracy' in which 
all citizens are required to engage in a process of testing their ideas against an 
external reality, persuading others of their point of view, and building shifting 
alliances of consent." However, in the case of slavery, Obama says, "[D]eUbera- 
tion alone could not provide the slave his freedom or cleanse America of its 
original sin," and "It was the wild-eyed prophecies of Joh n Brown, h is willingness 
to spill blood and not just words on behalf of his visions, that helped force the 
issue of a nation half slave and half free" (92, 96-97). According to Obama, the 

The Mind's Eye 41 

Mark D. Miller 

conduct of Brawn and of "absolutists" like him reminds us "that deliberation 
and the Constitutional order may sometimes be the luxury of the powerful," 
and "The blood of slaves reminds us that our pragmatism can sometimes be 
moral cowardice" (97-98). 

Slavery was "the one subject the Founders refused to talk about," Obaraa 
says. Westward expansion forced a resumption of the conversation, but the 
people whose fate was being decided never had a direct voice in that conversa- 
tion, and well before the war, there were, among people who did have a voice, 
plenty who felt that further deliberation was useless, According to Robert 
Penn Warren, in the South, "After the debates in the Virginia legislature in 
1831, when, from a variety of motives, the question of slavery was subjected 
to a searching scrutiny, public discussion was at an end" and "the possibility 
of criticism— criticism from the inside— was over" (35). In the North, Warren 
argues, an ethic of "persona! absolutism" (32) that ultimately denied "the very 
concept of society" and "repudiated all . . . institutions" in favor of "'the higher 
law'" (26-27) ensured that both public discussion and criticism from the inside 
were at an end there, too. That is, "... in the North the critic . . . had repudiated 
society!;) in the South society repudiated the critic; and the stage was set for 
trouble" (36). What Warren calls "the arbitrament of reason" gave way to "the 
arbitrament of blood" (20). When the two sides clashed in "Bleeding Kansas," 
it was not by force of reason each hoped to win the day; it was by force of 

Of course, on their side, the antislavery activists also had the force of right. 
However, right did not necessarily justify their actions. That is, their end did 
not necessarily justify their means. Lincoln made this clear in his remarks on 
Brown after his execution: 

Old lohn Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We 
cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery 
wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason. It 
could avail him nothing that he might think himself right, (qtd, in 
Legacy 23-24) 

But simply because they agreed th at slavery was wrong does not mean that 
Brown and Lincoln had the same object in mind when they conceived of its 
abolition. In the first place, Lincoln held— at least initially— a conception and 
a conviction that superseded the abolition of slavery, and that was the pres- 
ervation of the Union. As a "higher law" man, Brown had no such competing 

42 '[he Mind's Eye 

Mori 0. Miller 

conception. Indeed, for Brown, any compromise with the slaveholding states 
aimed at preserving the Union— even if that compromise included containing 
slavery so that it could be abolished gradually and eventually— was treason 
against the kingdom of God, as it were, and he therefore hated it and was bound 
to oppose it. 

Moreover, it is unclear whether Lincoln ever conceived of a nation where 
blacks and whites could live together as equals. Certainly in the infamous "Address 
on Colonization to a Committee of Colored Men" in 1 862, he did not seem to think 
it was possible, telling his guests, "[E]ven when you cease tobe slaves, you are yet far 
removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. ... It is better for us 
both, therefore, to be separated" (235-36). Browns vision was quite different. 
As Peterson puts it, "Browns empathy with blacks was the most remarkable 
feature of his character. He truly believed that black people were the equals of 
whites, and he conducted himself accordingly" (3). 

This difference of means and ends continued to characterize those engaged 
in the struggle for African- American rights long after the abolition of slavery. 
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, for instance, many militants, 
such as Malcolm X at his most radical, rejected the notion of integration and so 
were in some ways more closely aligned with Lincoln than with Brown, and yet 
they embraced Brown's militant tactics, More moderate activists— most notably 
Martin Luther King, Jr.— rejected Brown's tactics but embraced his vision of 
a community of equals. It can be argued that King's belief in nonviolence was 
at least as powerful as his belief in justice and equality, if not more so, just as 
Lincoln's belief in Union initially took precedence over his hatred of slavery. 
Of course, a cynic might also point out that the promotion of Union or the 
promotion of nonviolence was expedient in either case, and that is true, but in 
neither case does the belief seem to have been merely expedient. 

Significantly, King's nonviolent course of action has the same origin as 
Brown's violent course of action — his religious faith — and this must give us 
pause. In the context of antislavery agitation— in addition to John Brown, he 
also mentions William Lloyd Garrison, Denmark Vesey, Frederick Douglass 
and Harriet Tubman— this aspect of our history certainly gives Barack Obama 
pause. It reminds him, he says, 

that it has sometimes been the cranks, the zealots, the prophets, the 
agitators, and the unreasonable— in other words, the absolutists — 
that have fought for a new order. Knowing this, I cant summarily 
dismiss those possessed of si milar certainty today—the antiabortion 

The Mind's Eye 43 

Mark D. Milkr 

activist who pickets my town hall meeting, or the animal rights activ- 
ist who raids a laboratory— no matter how deeply I disagree with 
their views. 1 am robbed even of the certainty of uncertainty — for 
sometimes absolute truths may well be absolute. (97) 

Dr. Kings strategy clearly demonstrates that fervent religious belief does not 
necessarily result in violent practical consequences, that one doesn't have to 
be militant to be revolutionary. Indeed, in a crazy society, perhaps one can 
be revolutionary simply by sitting at a lunch counter or on a seat in the from 
rather than the back of the bus. 

Moreover, the career of John Brown himself demonstrates that the power 
of the word should not be underestimated. As we have seen, Brown tended 
to scorn mere talk, preferring action. However, once he had the stage, after 
the failure of the Harpers Ferry raid, it was in large part Brown himself who, 
through a series of memorable statements as well as gestures, created his own 
enduring status as a symbol and a myth, And then there was that song, "John 
Browns Body." By the time Julia Ward Howe transformed it into "The Battle 
Hymn of the Republic," the third-person masculine pronoun — as in the line 
"His truth is marching on"— referred in the minds of many both to John Brown 
and to God. 

Frederick Douglass, who declined to join Brown and his men at Harpers 
Ferry, berated himself thereafter, in Hamietesque fashion, as being a man of 
words, words, words. Yet his autobiography and his many speeches — i ncluding 
one on Brown — were also powerful galvanizing forces, before, during and after 
the war. There is also the example of Uncle Tom's Cabin, whose author, Harriet 
Beecher Stowe, was said to have been greeted by Lincoln at the White House 
with "So this is the little lady who made this big war." The purported greeting 
is an exaggeration, of course, but the powerful reaction to her novel is ample 
evidence of what the pragmatists, taking their cue from Emerson (another 
champion of Brown) and well before speech-act theory existed, knew to be the 
case: that speech is a kind of action, and action a kind of speech; that talk is 
not always just conception but can itself be action. Of course, the Greeks knew 
this, too, and so did Lincoln, as he vividly demonstrated i n speech after speech 
and especially in the Gettysburg Address. At any rate, as these various examples 
show, many religious or just principled, legal, extralegal and even illegal forms 
of agitation, short of violence, murder or treason, can be undertaken. John 
Brown himself was active for many years in the Underground Railroad, before 
he turned to more extreme tactics. 

44 The Mind's Eye 

Mark D. Miller 

But even though it has not, as President Obama says, "always been the 
pragmatist, the voice of reason, or the force of compromise, that has created the 
conditions for liberty" (97), he himself is not prepared to abandon pragmatism. 
"I'm left then with Lincoln," he concludes, and to the degree that pragmatism is 
an accurate reading of the human condition, and unless we want to continue 
paying what Obama calls "the terrible price" of pursuing absolutistic agendas 
(98), we are all left with Lincoln. According to Obama, Lincoln was a man 
"who like no man before or since understood the deliberative function of our 
democracy and the limits of such deliberation" (97)— or, in pragmatic terms 
(and using one of William James's favorite words), the strenuous interplay of 
conception and action and the consequences for life that interplay involves. 
Obama here concurs with those historians who see a connection between 
Lincoln's pragmatism and his tragic sense, historians such as David Donald, 
who describes Lincoln's pragmatism as "an expression of his tragic realization 
of the limitations on human activity" (142), According to Obama, Lincoln 
sought and attempted to maintain within himself "the balance between two 
contradictory ideas — that we must talk and reach for common understandings, 
precisely because all of us are imperfect and can never act with the certainty 
that God is on our side; arid yet at times we must act nonetheless, as if we are 
certain, protected from error only by providence" (98). 

The situation Obama describes here recalls a crux in Oedipus Rex. Oedipus 
has blindly turned upon Creon, his trusted advisor, accusing him of treason, 
and despite Creon's reasoned self-defense, Oedipus persists in his error. Creon 
asks, "But suppose that you are wrong?" and Oedipus replies, "Still, I must rule" 
(821). Given the complexity of experience and the limits of our vision, each 
of us is bound to be wrong sooner or later; and while we may not be rulers, 
still, we must act, particularly since, as we have seen, even inaction is a kind 
of action. Thus, where human beings are concerned, error is in the cards, even 
when we are not blinded by hubris, as Oedipus is, 

Of course, assuming the inevitable error doesn't kill us— and in the com- 
plication of things, a right action can sometimes be just as deadly as a wrong 
one— the resulting state of things will give us a new object of contemplation and 
deliberation and , thus, a new basis for action. Although we will rarely conceive 
of all of the conceivable practical consequences in any given instance, we will 
have to act anyway; but if we have learned what experience has to teach us, then 
we will act as Obama says Lincoln did: with "self-awareness" and "humility" (98) . 
It was this self- awareness and humility, according to Obama, that "led Lincoln 

The Mind's Eye 45 

Mark D. Miller 

to advance his principles through the framework of our democracy, through 
speeches and debate, through die reasoned arguments that might appeal to the 
better angels of our nature. It was this same humility," Obama adds, "that allowed 
him, once the conversation between North and South broke down and war be- 
came inevitable, to resist the temptation to demonize the fathers and sons who 
did battle on the other side, or to diminish the horror of war, no matter how just 
it might be" (98). As we have seen, however, it was apparently Lincoln's lack of 
empathy— which is an aspect of humility and self- awareness— an d not just his 
love of the Union that prevented him from being able to conceive of a nation 
in which blacks and whites could live together as equals and that also led him 
to propose colonization. That is, he does not seem — at least initially — to have 
been able to extend to blacks the empathy he felt for white Southerners. In this, 
John Brown exceeds him and is a rebuke to him, as. well as to the pragmatism 
that, in this instance— and for whatever variety of reasons — failed. 

However, there is considerable evidence that, under the tutelage of the 
Great Teacher, experience, Lincoln was even coming around on the question of 
equality. It has been argued by some historians that, on the issue of race, Lincoln's 
private feelings did not square with his public policies and pronouncements, 
that he was personally not prejudiced but that, as president, he had to be tough- 
minded about the prejudice prevailing in the country. Other historians — and 
this is probably the dominant view now — have argued that Lincoln changed 
and grew on the issue of racial equality, swayed by such experiences as his 
friendship with Douglass and the extraordinary bravery of African-American 
regiments during the war. To borrow a phrase from Barack Obama, Lincoln 
was making up for his "empathy deficit" (67) by growing and changing during 
the last years of his life. "To see Lincoln in this light," as Richard N. Current 
wrote in 1958, "is to make him more than ever relevant ... as a symbol of man's 
ability to outgrow his prejudices . . ."(236) — a very pragmatic ability. This is the 
Lincoln who emerges from one of the most recent examinations of the myth 
and the man, Looking for Lincoln, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 1 

'tn 77ie Audacity of Hops, Barack Obama seems to regard empathy as both a means and an end, 
arguing that, through empathy, " We are all forced beyond our limited vision" (68), and declaring, 
"[A] sense of empathy ... is at the heart of my moral code' and is "a guidepost for my politics" 

On Friday, May 1, 2009, President Obama interrupted White House Press Secretary Robert 
Gibbs during a press briefing to announce that Justice David Sourer would be retiring from the 
Supreme Court Alter praising Souteras someone who "rejected absolutes," President Obama began to 
describe whathe would be looking for in a Supreme Court nominee, saying that empathy was't-ssential." 
This seemingly innocuous remark touched off a raucous reaction in the press. As usual, one of the 

46 Ihe Mind's Eye 


Whatever the case in the end, though, Lincoln was not, from the beginni ng, a 
clear and vocal proponent of racial equality, as was Brown. Indeed, he was even 
slow to strike against slavery, searching first for answers within the framework of 
the Constitution and short of disunion and war, and then, once war had begun, 
being reluctant to declare a sweeping emancipation. Do we therefore revile 
Lincoln as a tainted hero and reject pragmatism as hopelessly compromised? 
Do we abandon the framework of the Constitution and embrace absolutism 
as the better, because purer, solution? 

To do so would be to lose our own humility and self-awareness. We have 
to be willing to extend our own empathy to Lincoln, even though he seems 
initially to have been unable to extend his em pathy fully not only to the enslaved 
African- Americans he would emancipate but also to those African- Americans 
who already had their freedom. Near the end of Looking for Lincoln, Gates 
assumes the role of the person— in particular the African- American person — 
who has learned the complicated truth behind the idealized myth of Abraham 
Lincoln and is bitterly disillusioned- Doris Kearns Goodwin implores him to 
have empathy for Lincoln in order to understand and accept the man, as op- 
posed to the myth. The myth is an absolute, but so, too, is utter condemnation 
of the man because of his human limitations. We are left with Lincoln and with 
pragmatism because, otherwise, we may be left with only a particularly vicious 
tyranny, a tyranny our pragmatic Constitution is meant to keep in check: the 
tyranny of absolutism. 

As the career of John Brown shows, absolutism can be ugly and brutal even 
in the name of right, even when we are tempted to try to separate the end from 
the means because we perceive the end to be good but the means bad. We want 
to separate the Pottawatomie Massacre as well as the debacle at Harpers Ferry 
from the good end they were meant to bring about. However, they are finally, in 
Brown, inseparable from that end — as inseparable as Lincoln's apparent racism 
from all the good that he brought about. They are the practical consequences of 
a conception of things in which error is inconceivable, a hubristic conception 
of things. 

If absolutism in the name of right can be ugly and brutal, what of absolut- 

more trenchant analyses of the phenomenon came from Jon Stewart on the episode ol The Daily 
Slum airing the following Monday, May 4, 2009: "Actually, you know what 1 love? Those who ex- 
plain that 'empathy 5 is a codeword for 'activist judge,' which is a code word for 'pro choice.' 'they're 
helping us break the code with more code!" (Darty), This brouhaha may tell us something about 
the odds against pragmatism in the current political climate. Pragmatism and empathy faced even 
longer odds in Lincoln's time. 

The Mind's Rye 47 

Mark D. Miller 

ism in the name of something we judge to be wrong? Present at the martyrdom 
of both John Brown and Abraham Lincoln was an actor — literally an actor — 
who hated both men and everything they stood for. He was glad to witness 
the taking of John Brown's life, and he would himself take the life of Abraham 
Lincoln. His name was John Wilkes Booth. Booth was iid less certain than 
Brown of the Tightness of both his means and his ends, of both his actions and 
the conception of things that prompted them. Such absolutism may be easier 
to condemn, but that does not make it any easier to deal with. 

Moreover, in the 21st century, both kinds of absolutism go marching on, 
just as they did before the American Civil War. Early in the year 2000, the bicen - 
tennial of John Browns birth, a documentary film titled John Browns Holy War 
aired on PBS as part of the series called The American Experience. A little over 
six months later, on September 1 1 , 2001 , the world would watch in horror as a 
2 1 st-century, international holy war came to American soil. Among other things, 
this event demonstrates that, for Barack Obama, the house divided is not just 
the United States of America but the world. However, it also clearly shows that 
absolutism is alive and well in the 2 1st century. John Brown was often described 
as a throwback, a Cromwellian Puritan who appeared anachronistic in the 1 9th 
century. Many in the 19th century felt that the chattel slavery Brown opposed 
was also outmoded— though Brown himself would argue that it had never been 
right— yet John Wilkes Booth and many like him fervently supported it. Osama 
bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are also often described as outmoded, 
anachronistic throwbacks, and yet here they are, in the 21st century. Nor do 
they have a corner, in the 21st century, on policies and practices that most of 
us consider also to be throwback — and wrong: the oppression of women, for 
instance. Thus, we have not progressed beyond absolutism in our own time, 
and it maybe that in our own time, the precedents of Lincoln and pragmatism 
remain our best hope. 

We are left with Lincoln precisely because we were not left with Lincoln, 
because it is easy to call John Wilkes Booth a villain and hard to call John Brown 
a hero, and because without Lincoln and pragmatism, we are potentially left 
with only the tyranny of absolutism, and with anarchy. As Robert Penn Warren 
says of the latter in The Legacy of the Civil War, 

[T] he conviction, proclaimed by Wendell Phillips, that "one with God 
is always a majority" does not lend encouragement to the ordinary 
democratic process. With every man his own majority as well as his 

48 The Mind's Eye 

Mark a Miller 

own law, there is, in the logical end, only anarchy, and anarchy of 
a peculiarly tedious and bloodthirsty sort, for every drop is to be 
spilled in God's name and by his explicit directive. (33) 

Over against this absolutist ethic, Warren says, is "an ethic that demands scrutiny 
of motive, context, and consequences, particularly the consequences to others. 
This kind of ethic, laborious, fumbling, running the risk of degenerating into 
expediency, finds its apotheosis in Lincoln . . .* (32). 

When this ethic— the ethic of pragmatism— does degenerate into expe- 
diency, or when it is confused by competing aims, or when it is marred by a 
lack of imagination— particularly the empathetic imagination— so that it fails 
to conceive of all that is conceivable, it can lead to such ugly consequences as 
Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the war; or his at- 
tempts, before the war, to compromise with the South and, hence, with slavery, 
in an effort to avoid war and preserve the Union; or his proposal to colonize 
African-Americans somewhere outside the United States. This is, as Obama 
says, "a practicality that would distress us today" (97), which is perhaps why 
one of Obama's first acts as president was to order closure of the prison for 
accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. His argument was that the existence of 
"Gitmo" undermined the very values for which America supposedly stands, 
much as Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus did, according to his critics, and 
much as certain provisions of the Patriot Act continue to do today, according 
to critics of that act. On the other hand, the closing of "Gitmo" may have the 
practical consequence not only of helping us get right with ourselves but also 
of helping us get right with the rest of the world. Nevertheless, some have found 
the impracticality of this and of other Obama initiatives distressing. Such is the 
rough and tumble of pol itics. As Obama himself has candidly acknowledged, if 
his actions fail— particularly his measures to solve the economic crisis that has 
all but taken over the early part of his administration— then he will be voted 
out of office after four years. 

Barack Obama sums up his acceptance and approval of our pragmatic 
way of doing things in this way: 

The rejection of absolutism in our Constitutional structure may 
sometimes make our politics seem unprincipled. But for most of our 
history it has encouraged the very process of information gathering, 
analysis, and argument that allows us to make better, if not perfect, 
choices, not only about the means to our ends but also about the 

'Die Mind's Eye ",•) 

Mark D. Miller 

ends themselves. Whether we are for or against affirmative action, 
for or against prayer in schools, we must test out our ideals, vision, 
and values against the realities of a common life, so that over time 
they may be refined, discarded, or replaced by new ideals, sharper 
visions, deeper values. (94-95) 

Obama's bet is that this pragmatic approach to politics will continue to serve 
us well throughout the 2 1st century and beyond. In electing him president, we 
have made this our bet, too. 

Works Cited 

Current, Richard N. The Lincoln Nobody Knows. Amer. Century Ser. New York 
Hill, 1958. 

The Daily Show with Ion Stewart. Accessed 7 June 2009 


jhtml'episodeld = 225928> . 
Donald, David. Lincoln Reconsidered; "Essays on the Civil War Era." 2nd 

ed., enl. New York: Vintage, 1956. 
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: "The Political Genius of Abraham 

Lincoln." New York: Simon, 2005. 
James, William. Pragmatism: "A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking." 

Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 

UP, 1978. 1-166. 

John Brown's Holy War. American Experience. Prod, and dir. Robert 
Kenner. Boston: WGBH Edu. Fdn, 2000. 

Lincoln, Abraham. Hie Portable Abraham Lincoln. Ed. Andrew Delbanco. 
New York: Penguin, 1993. 

Looking for Lincoln: "The Making of an American Icon." Presented and writ- 
ten by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Special commentary by Doris Kearns 
Goodwin. Prod, and dir. John Maggio and Muriel Soenens. New York: 
WNET, 2009. 

Melville, Herman. Selected Poems of Herman Melville: "A Reader's Edition. " Ed. 

Robert Penn Warren. New York: Random, 1971. 
Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: "Thoughts on Reclaiming the American 

Dream." New York: Three Rivers, 2007. 

50 The Mind's Eye 

Mark D. Miller 

Peirce, Charles Sanders. "Pragmatism and PragmaticisiTQ." Collected Papers. Ed. 
Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Vol. 5. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 
UP, 1978. 

Peterson, Merrill D. John Brown: '"ihe Legend Revisited." Charlottesville; U of 
Virginia P, 2002. 

Sophocles, Oedipus Rex. Trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. Elements 
of Literature: "Essay, Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Film." 4th ed. Ed. Robert 
Scholcs, Nancy R. Comley, Carl H. Klaus and Michael Silverman. New 
York: Oxford UP, 1991. 804-46. 

Ward, Geoffrey C. Ihe Civil War: "An Illustrated History." Based on a docu- 
mentary filmscript by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ric Burns and Ken Burns. 
.Mew York: Knopf, 1990. 

Warren , Robe rtPenn; The Legacy of the Civil War: "Meditalions on the Centen- 
nial." New York; Vintage, 1964. 

Works Consulted 

Abraham and Mary Lincoln: "A House Divided." Prod, and Dir. David Grubin. 
American Experience. Boston: WGBH, 2001. 

Horton, Rod W., and Herbert W. Edwards. Backgrounds of American Literary 
'thought. 2nd ed. New York: Appleton, 1967. 

Konvitz, Milton R„ and Gail Kennedy, eds. The American Pmgmatists: "Selected 
Writings-" Cleveland, OH: World, 1967. 

Thayer, H. S. Meaning and Action: "A Study of American Pragmatism." India- 
napolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1973. 

Warren, Robert Penn. John Brown: "The Making of a Martyr." So. Classic Ser. 
Nashville, TN: Sanders, 1993. 

. Who Speaks for the Negro? New York: Random, 1965. 

Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: "'the Words 'lhat Remade America." New 
York: Simon, 1992. 

Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: "Studies in the Literature of the Civil War." 
New York: Norton, 1994. 

Vie Mind's Eye 51 

Humanity: How D'yuh 
Spell It? 

Keynote Address to the Council of Public Liberal Arts 
Colleges at the University of North Carolina at Asheville 
June 5, 2009 


hank you for the inlroduction, Bill. Introductions are important. They 

are our way of trying to make common contact. To get to know one 

-A. another, we're usually 3 sked to give our names. Then we're asked, "What 
do you do?"— as though we can establish who we are by our names and by 
what we do. 

In Eugene O'Neills play The Great God Brown, a police captain bends over 
the lifeless body of William A. Brown and asks, "Well, what's his name?" Someone 
replies, "Man," and the captain says, "How d'yuh spell it?" (2: Act IV) 

To be politically correct, O'Neill would now say that human or humanity 
is the name we need to know how to spell. Human? That's me. Humanity? '[hat's 
us. But what does that mean? How do we spell it? 

Each of you represents a public liberal-arts college where the focus is on 

52 Ihe Minds Eye 

Ray Carroll 

liberal education, on knowledge that enlarges our understanding and deepens 
our insight regarding hoth ourselves and others. 

Thomas Wolfe defines that kind of knowledge as "a potent and subtle 
distillation of experience"— not just our experience but also the experience 
of others. The liberal education we espouse frees us from the narrow confines 
of self, from our own limited time and space. It introduces us to ourselves and 
to our common humanity. It liberates us. 

The most liberating disciplines are the humanities, which, at their best, 
preserve and pass on the cumulative experience, knowledge and wisdom of our 
cultural heritage. The humanities are the heart and core of a liberal education, 
and history is the heart and core of the humanities. 

Oh, I know that history and literature are closely related fields that enrich 
and reinforce each other. Each would be poorer without the other. But let me be 
clear— I have long proclaimed, unapologetically, that history is more compre- 
hensive, more diverse, more illuminating and more important than any other 
subject in the curriculum. It claims all of human experience as its province. It 
is, in Arnold Toynbees words, "a search for light on the nature and destiny of 

History is an essential lens or mirror through which we are introduced to 
ourselves, our common humanity and the human condition. 

It is only through a knowledge of history that our own brief lives 
. . . become one with the record of the human race. . . . 'lhe life of 
the individual breaks its barriers and becomes coterminous with 
humanity. Bound as our lives are to the tyranny of time, it is through 
what we know of history that we are delivered from our bonds and 
escape — into time. (Rowse 26) 

Humanity : How does h istory spell it? How do we spell it? Sometimes we 
spell it strength and sometimes weakness, sometimes courage and sometimes 
cowardice, sometimes saint and sometimes sinner, sometimes mean and some- 
times miracle. Miracle? Yes. 

There is a scene in The Lark by Jean Anouilh and Lillian Hellm an in which 
Joan of Arc is on trial. 

Joan: 1 say that true miracles are not tricks performed by gypsies in a 
village square. True miracles are created by men when they use 
the courage and the intelligence that God gave them. 

The Mind's Eye 53 

Roy Carroll 

Cauchon: You are saying to us, to us, that the real miracle of God on 
this earth is man. Man, who is naught but sin and error, 
impotent against his own wickedness. 
Joan: And man is also strength and courage and splendor in his 

most desperate moments. 1 know man because I have seen him. 
He is a miracle. (Act 1) 

As the heart of the liberal curriculum, history introduces us to real persons, 
to moral creatures who have consciences no matter how hard they may strive 
or pretend to stifle and ignore them . It reveals to us our great potential for good 
or for evil, It brings us face to face with our humanity. 

History also provides an integrative context, a frame of reference for the 
study of other disciplines. It helps us understand and appreciate other literature, 
ft helps us understand the events of the present. It makes things past and things 
present more real and more personal. Let me illustrate. Today, President Barack 
Obamais going to tourBuchenwald. To fully grasp the significance of the visit, 
one needs to know the history of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. 

We can set the scene by bringing history and poetry together. War- torn 
Germany, 1945. The fighting is over. The horror of the camps is beyond belief. 
Displaced persons of all ages are hogging the roads or haunting the rubble. 

Walter Benton, a young officer in the US Army in Europe at the time, 
and a keen observer of the scene, wrote this powerful poem: 

Who knows their names? 
What was their work? 

Which was a peddler . . . which a priest, a poet— 
Anonymously naked in Ihe cyanide chambers? 

Who wept for them? 

Who shall remember them . . . where none was left 
To weep or to remember? 

They di ed because. 

Not even those who knew coidd understand. 

Not as martyrs, exactly, or heroes . . . there was no virtue involved 

or morals, 

no guilt or innocence — 

Their dying strengthened no earthly good, weakened no evil — 
proved nothing, taught nothing . . . began or ended nothing. 

54 'Ihe Mind's Eye 

Roy Carroll 

On every wall of a room, in every room of a house, 

in every house in Bavaria — 

a humble, wounded, dying Jew-Christ on a cross. 

Cast, carved, painted Jew-Christ on every wall 

in Bavaria ... in every corner, 


wise bearded Jews partaking of the Last Supper, 
the Jewess Mary . , , with smiling little Jew-God. 

I cannot understand this. 

The gas chambers of Maidanek had w'alls, too. 
And there were hooks for life-size images 
On the bloodied walls of Belsen and Dachau. 

In another poem, Benton wrote of the beauty and devastation, the anger and 

Germany, the land that is Germany, has beauty, too, 
The dark, green, ancient plains . . . the hills, 
high-castled Heidelberg, forests of beech and pine, 
the terraced vineyards on the steep banks of the Rhine— 

the Rhine of Lorelei ... the Rhine of the Nibelungs, 
swirling over scuttled barges and backbroken bridges. . . . 

Those returning converge futilely upon the ruins— 

the old, passive and sullen ... the children, waving or nazi-saluting. 

lhe older boys, having put away their daggers for another day, 

Sidestep the onrushing trucks leisurely, contemptuously. 

Only the women . . . the young, blue-eyed women, smile — 

their infinite weapon is the warm promise of love. 

Our driver, a kid from Jowa, admits he would love being conquered 

by one of these, pedaling their bicycles uninhibited, 

generous with their full, white thighs. 

The Minds Eye 55 

Roy Carroll 

Lt. Marcus says: Christ! It makes me sick, these people, 
Lost, tired . . . pushing their carts nowhere—. . . . 

Lt. King, his face patched up with the skin offhis side, says: 

Marcus, did you ever go through Buchenwald? 

Were you ever in Belsen or Dachau . . . have you ever heard 

of Lidice or Warsaw, Stalingrad, Rotterdam, Coventry ... or seen 

starved women and men . . . and children 

gassed, drowned, poisoned, clubbed — hanged on the hooks and sent 
still kicking down the conveyor into white-hot ovens? 

What do you think when you look at the empty sleeves 
all over the world ... the pinned-up pantlegs, the stitched 
Frankenstein faces . . . like this — 

The awful haunted eyes that will never know peace, even in peace? 

Their carts bother you? Their lost tired look? 

There never was a people since the beginning that deserved 

What they got 

More than these did — may the good Lord forever damn the bastards! 

But there was more to that Germany. Nowhere is this illustrated more viv- 
idly than in the letters and diaries of Christians in Hitler's Germany, especially 
those who were arrested following an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler 
on July 20, 1944. 

One of those arrested was a young Jesuit priest, Alfred Delp, aged 37. His 
theological studies led him into the Kreisau Circle of the resistance. On July 
28, 1944, he was arrested, though he was not involved in the plot, and in suc- 
ceeding months was interrogated, tortured, beaten and eventually tried. 

On New Year's night, with fettered hands, he wrote in his diary: 

Within me there has been a great deal of vanity and self-reliance 
and presumption and untruthfulness during the past year, . . , And 
therefore very much is burned away on this mountain of lightning, 
and much has been purged. . . . The inner light must kindle a new 
passion. A passion of testimony for the living God, for f have come 
to know him, and I have felt his presence. . . . 

56 77ie Mind's Eye 

Roy Carroll 

After his conviction and the death sentence was pronounced, Delp wrote: 

Up to now the Lord has helped me most nobly and warmly. 1 have 
not yet felt frightened, nor have I broken down. . . . Perhaps it is a 
grace and an assistance from God the Father, who in this way lets 
me pass through the desert without having to die of thirst. . . . What 
does the Lord want with all this? Is it education for complete free- 
dom and utter dedication? Does he want the whole chalice, to the 
last drop . . . ? Or does he desire a proof of faith? ... In any event I 
shall wait here honestly for the Lord's dispensation and guidance. 
I shall trust him until someone comes to get me. And I shall strive 
to arrange that even this omen and outcome will not find me small 
and discouraged. 

They came to get him that night, February 2, 1945, and they hanged him on a 
slaughterhouse meat hook (Zimmerman 222-24). 

Benton's poetry and Delp's prose are primary records that illumine our 
minds and open our understanding. These men were active participants in 
the scenes they have preserved for us. Their eloquence and the immediacy of 
their testimony enrich the history of their time. What we know of that history 
from other sources enables us to better appreciate and comprehend Captain 
Benton's poetry and Father Delp's diary. 

Note: The words we have used to spell humanity have ethical significance 
and content. They are, in fact, value-laden. 

Benton's poems and Delp's diary entries are concerned with important 
issues, issues such as being and nonbeing, life and death, justice and injustice, 
freedom and responsibility, equality and inequality, the individual and society, 
war and peace. 

And so is history. It forces us to ask the large questions about the large 
issues of life. Ponder Benton's closing lines in yet another poem on war: 

O will we ever know our rumored greatness 

who kill as stonemen killed for one's tongue or color, 

conscience or face of God, 
With piety on our lips and science shining in our eyes- 
Embracing logic or the cross as an adulteress her husband. 

That is why history should have a more exalted place and more space in 
our academic programs. Not for the sake of the history department and its 

The Mind's Eye 57 

Roy Carrol! 

faculty members— history departments are not ends in themselves— but for the 
sake of our students, for the sake of our society, for the sake of our common 
human ity. Not history for history's sake but history for our sake. A knowledge 
of history is necessary if we are to have better- informed and more mature 
leaders, and better- informed and more mature citizens. 

A year or so ago, I saw a bumper sticker that puzzled and troubled me. It 



Was it an expression of concern? Was it the sounding of an alarm because 
universities and colleges are steadily easing history out of the requirements and 
out of the electives, too? I don't know, but we historians should do all we can to 
avoid academic, disciplinary, curricular suicide! As someone who has fought 
(and won) some of those battles, I urge you to keep the faith and fight the good 
fight. Preach and teach history to all the audiences you can find. 

Humanity: How d' yuh spell it? 

I spell it H-l-S-T-O-R-Y. 

Works Cited 

Anouilh, Jean. The Lark. Adapt. Lillian Hellman. New York: Random, 1956. 
Benton, Walter. Never a Greater Need. New York: Knopf, 1948. 
O'Neill, Eugene. Plays. Ed. Travis Bogard. 3 vols. New York: Viking, 1988. 
Rowse, A. L. The Use of History. Rev, ed. New York: Collier, 1963. 
Zimmerman, Erich, and Hans Adolf Jacobsen, comp. Germans Against Hitler: 

July 20, 1944. 3rd ed. Trans. Allan and Lieselotte Tayraes. Bonn: Berto- 

Verlag, 1960 

58 The Mind's Eye 

The Meaning of Cuba on 
the 50th Anniversary of the 
Triumph of the Revolution 


I still have the one picture my parents brought back with them from their 
honeymoon to Cuba in 1937. In the two-by- three black-and-white photo, 
they are young and serious, standing in front of a statue of Jose Marti in 
Havana's Central Park. Why was it so meaningful to me? At the age of nine, 
when I first saw the picture, I must have thought of Cuba as an exotic island, 
but 1 think my connection to it had more to do with my identification with my 
father and the realization that Cuba was the only foreign travel he had ever done. 
My father wasn't much of a talker, but when I would ask him about Havana, he 
would tell me about the awful poverty that he witnessed. 

I learned about the Revolution as a high school student, though my teach- 
ers didn't discuss it at all, except for a negative comment or two. Somehow I 
knew that those bearded guys had done something good and important. As a 
teenager, I didn't know much about politics, and I think my approval of Fidel 
coincided with a spirit of rebellion and a sense that he, lilvis and the other icons 
of rock 'n' roll knew, even then, which way the wind was blowing. 

The Mind's Eye 59 

Uaynard Seidcr 

While I was an undergraduate, my initial good feelings about J.F.K. dis- 
sipated with the Bay of Pigs invasion. Soon after, I listened to a firsthand report 
from two Americans who had just returned from Cuba and painted a picture of 
a spirited people making revolutionary gains. I learned to distrust U.S. media 
accounts of Fidel, Che and the Revolution, and tried to do as much reading 
on my own as 1 could. The social movements of the '60s spoke to the need for 
social change here at home and only underlined the value of the new society 
developing in the Caribbean, not that far from the tip of Florida. As a young 
sociology graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, I began to read C. 
Wright Mills, a Wisconsin alum and a model sociologist-activist for those of 
my generation. 

Mills died young, two years before I started graduate school, but White Col- 
lar and The Power F.lite were already classics, as was his devastating critique of 
establishment sociology, The Sociological Imagination . Bui what I also remember 
from those mid-'60s days was another of M ills's books, more of a pamphlet than 
a piece of empirical sociology. He titled it Listen, Yankee: "The Revolution in 
Cuba." In 1960, after visiting Cuba and meeting with many of its Revolutionary 
leaders, including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Mills concluded "that much 
of whatever you have read recently about Cuba in the U.S. press is far removed 
from the realities and the meaning of what is going on in Cuba today" (9). Mills 
died two years later, but had he survived and visited the same landscape today, 
he would probably reach a similar conclusion, In a recent review of U.S. press 
coverage, Saul Landau, a U.S. Cuban expert who helped Mills in his writing 
of Listen, Yankee, states unequivocally that since 1959, "U.S. mass media have 
reflected the views of the U.S. government and systematically misreported the 
Cuban Revolution" (49). 

I've traveled to Cuba three times over the past decade and have visited 
that same park where my parents posed more than 70 years ago. The park and 
the statue look the same, but the palm trees behind Independence martyr Jose 
Marti have grown so high that they blot out the capital building that loomed 
so clearly in the 1937 background. After the Revolution, the Cuban govern- 
ment turned that building into a museum, not wanting to house its National 
Assembly in the place where so many Cuban governments did the bidding 
of the United States. Over the past half century, that struggle to define itself, 
to be independent of the U.S.— or, as the Cubans say, "Patria o Muerte"— has 
been a guiding theme of Cuban development. At the same time, a dominant, 
some might say even obsessive, hallmark of U.S. policy since 1959 has been to 

60 The Mind's Eye 

Maynurd Seider 

overthrow the Revolution, to bring Cuba back into its sphere of influence. 

How has Cuba survived, and what is its meaning today? I will try to answer 
those questions by reflecting on a half dozen or so written snapshots of my visit 
to Cuba this past winter, on the occasion of the Revolutions 50th anniversary. 
To satisfy the travel guidelines of the U.S. government, my wife, Sheila, and I had 
to describe our Cuban research agenda, provide letters from our employers to 
authenticate our professional background and have a notary public stamp our 
vital papers. Still, our government makes it virtually i mpossible to fly to Cuba 
from the U.S., so we drove nearly 500 miles to Canada to begin our journey to 
the Caribbean. In Toronto, we joined several dozen Canadians and a few other 
Americans, part of our 43-person solidarity group headed for Havana. 

Day One: We spend one of our most delightful evenings in Havana in the 
Guanabacoa neighborhood as guests of the local Committee for the Defense 
of the Revolution (CDR). We arrive in two buses to be greeted by a huge block 
party. Our hosts have arranged rows of chairs in the street so we can comfort- 
ably be entertained by the neighborhood children. After the CDR president 
formally welcomes us, we watch some 20 costum ed children dance and sing 
for us, to be followed by a martial-arts exhibition featuring eight teenagers 
and older men . Then there is food and drink and dance, and even though most 
of us know very little Spanish, the universal language of music makes it work. 

Neighborhood children greet North American visitors with song and dance at CDR 
part)'. (Photograph by Michelle Chen.) 

The Mind's Eye 61 

Maynard Seider 

We commission Sheila, who is still fluent in Spanish from her Peace Corps 
days in Chiie, to offer thanks for all of us, which she does to calls of 'Viva la 

CDRs bring with them some controversy, as do all manifestations of poli- 
tics in Cuba. 'Ihey look like organizations that set up after-school and summer 
programs for the children and initiate recycling campaigns. Opponents of the 
Revolution, and probably more than a tew supporters, see them as neighborhood 
groups that act as political commisars, making sure that all follow the correct 
political line. In a recent interview, President Raul Castro admitted to human- 
rights violations in Cuba while stating that '"No country is 100-percent free of 
human rights abuses'" (Penn 18). It remains true that in Cuba, one is not free 
to publ icly criticize the one-party system, enshrined in the Cuban Communist 
Party. While criticism is encouraged at the local, provincial and national levels 
of all the electoral bodies, that criticism roust be offered in a way to move the 
socialist state forward, and not to suggest ending the socialist experiment. 

Some of the most important internal debates of the past 50 years occurred 
during the Special Period of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc 
and the Soviet Union. At that time, the Cubans lost 85 percent of their trade, 
leading to a shortage of basic food supplies along with fuel and electricity. The 
leadership feared that the regime might well come to an end. While opinions 
varied, the government ultimately decided to make changes in its monopoly 
control of the economy, allowing state farms to become coops, legalizing private 
farm markets, offering licenses for households to become bed-and-breakfasts 
for tourists, allowing private restaurants to open and making it possible for 
government tradesmen— electricians, carpenters and plumbers— to sell their' 
skills privately. The government also sought foreign investment to build up a 
stronger tourist trade but insisted that Cuba maintain majority control of all 
foreign joint ventures. 

The need for foreign exchange, vital now with the loss of the Soviet trade 
bloc, meant that foreign currency, even the dollar, needed to be legalized. It 
brought about a two-currency system in Cuba, with most Cubans holding pe- 
sos and those in the tourist trade able to amass convertible pesos, with access 
to a higher standard of living. It may have been fear of the development of a 
two-class system that kept Fidel from initially supporting the many reforms 
instituted in the Special Period. In a famous exchange in the National Assembly, 
Raul made the case for reforms, while his much more famous and charismatic 
brother held to a strict ideological line. Raul won the day and the support of 

62 The Mind's Eye 

Mnynard Seider 

the Assembly when he famously stated, "Beans are more important than can- 
nons." Without change, without some reforms, the lingering food crisis could 
have led to riots and worse for the government. 

Day Two; We drive to the outskirts of Havana past residential areas to 
a lush rural landscape as the road winds to the sea. There sits the decade-old 
Latin America School of Medicine (Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina, 
or ELAM), with a current enrollment of more than 12,000 students in fairly 
modern buildings formerly occupied by Cuba's naval academy, We are ushered 
into a spacious room around a huge conference table. The walls of the room 
are covered with colorful maps and charts designating the 29 home countries 
of the students and their numbers. We quickly learn that, despite the schools's 
name, students also originate from Africa, Asia and the United States. 

Milades Castilla, vice principal of ELAM, an attractive woman in her early 
50s, greets us warmly. She tells us that the idea for the school came from Fidel 
in 1998 after two huge Caribbean hurricanes led to the deaths of more than 
30,000 people in Central America. Cuba immediately sent doctors and paramed- 
ics to help the survivors in those countries that lacked medical personnel and 
facilities. To meet the need for doctors in Central America and the rest of Latin 
America, Cuba began planning to operate a medical school that would enroll 
students from throughout the region at no charge, with free room and board 
and a monthly stipend. In return, the students would return to their countries 
of origin and tend to the medical needs of the poor for a period of at least three 
years. Ihe Cubans worked quickly and the school opened in February 1999. 

Although I till my notebook with the facts and figures that Castilla presents 
to us, what really captures my attention, and my heart, is the enthusiasm she 
shows for the project and its results. Castilla displays her own gratitude for 
the Revolution, noting that she was born into a poor family and never thought 
she could become a doctor but was able to because of the free school ing provided 
to Cubans, from preschool through graduate and professional studies. 

We learn that entering students must have a B.A. or its equivalent, be 
younger than 26, be healthy and without a criminal record. Before they start their 
formal training at ELAM, the students take an ) 8-week premed course. They then 
do their first two years of medical training at ELAM and continue the remaining 
two to four years at Cuban hospitals scattered throughout the island. 

Our group of Canadians and Americans listen attentively to the vice prin- 
cipal's description of the psychological and social changes the students undergo 
during their matriculation at ELAM. Here they discover a solidarity that is 

The Mind's Eye 63 

Maynard Seider 

part of the Cuban identity. They move from simply focusing on themselves to 
becoming part of a wider, though still diverse, group. During their two-year 
stint at ELAM, they learn how to practice medicine and epidemiology and 
to foster links to the ELAM community— students, professors and the 1900 
workers who maintain the buildings and grounds. 

Castilla answers the questions posed, and there are many. Virtually every 
time she refers to the government, she adds, "and Fidel." She speaks about the 
U.S. blockade and how it keeps valuable equipment and some medications from 
reaching Cuba, and often increases the cost of medical goods that the country 
receives. She also informs us of the ways that the blockade directly harms the 
people of the U.S., as valuable vaccines and medicines to cure some forms of 
lung and prostate cancer— medical breakthroughs that have been developed 
in Cuban research laboratories— are not allowed to enter the United States. I 
think that if Americans knew about this, their opposition to the blockade would 
quickly grow. 

Besides their very well-known work in Venezuela, Cuban doctors help 
staff eight medical schools in Africa, Cuban medical training places a great 
emphasis on primary care, and we learn that almost half of the 73,000 doc- 
tors in Cuba practice primary care, working with nurses in neighborhoods, to 
maintain the right of free, high-quality care for all Cubans, 

Despite the economic difficulties that Cuba, a relatively poor coun- 
try, still faces, Castilla reminds us that "with political will, everything is 
possible." When a sociologist from the University of Victoria asks her 
what the Revolution has meant to her, she takes only a few moments 
to consider the question, and then simply answers, "Mi vida" (my life). 

At one point in the morning's discussion, Sheila turns to me and wh ispers, 
"Cuba has the Latin America School of Medicine to export doctors, and we have 
the School of the Americas to export torture." I feel shame more than once dur- 
ing our trip when I learn additional details about our government's economic 
and military aggression against the people of this tropical island. Maybe that's 
why we ask the other members of our group to make us, at least for the time 
being, "honorary Canadians," symbolically joining a country whose relations 
with Cuba remain open and friendly. 

That evening we walk a few blocks from our hotel to the Havana Libre, 
formerly the Havana Hilton, where Fidel and many of his compatriots set up 
headquarters after victoriously marching into the capital city on January S, 
1959. Now a major hotel in this city of more than two million people, its sign 

64 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Setder 

remains a landmark and symbol in the center of Havana. We climb the stairs to 
a conference room on the second floor, where University of Havana sociologist 
Martha Nunez will speak to us on "Cuban Society Today." A veteran teacher 
of 42 years at the university, Nunez begins by summarizing the negative ste- 
reotypes of Cuba that the U.S. media have fostered over the past 50 years: (1) 
The Revolution has been a failure, despite some gains in education and health 
care; (2) Cuba is a dictatorship, with no concern for human rights; (3) Cuba's 
economy is a failure; (4) almost al] Cubans want to leave; and (5) the abject 
economy has driven Cuban women to prostitution. In making that case, Nunez 
refers to a recent article by Roger Cohen, a featured cover story in The New 
York Times Magazine. 

1 remember reading Cohen's article, though I let the magazine lie around 
for a week, as the cover itself spoke to its negativity. In front of headline type 
spelling out "THE END OF THE END OF THE REVOLUTION" stand Fidel 
Castro in army fatigues, rifle, pistol and cigar, and five revolutionaries behind 
him. All look, at best, serious, but more accurately, forlorn, as if they come to 
mourn at a funeral and not march "to liberate Havana in 1959," as the inside 
explanation of the photograph tells us (4). The editors must have looked far 
and wide to find such a despairing photo of the victors. As if we haven't yet been 
able to determine the tenor of the article, the cover's subhead reads "Castro's 
Cuba Is Turning 50. It's Been Dying for Years. What Can Obama— or Anyone 
Else— Do to Help Bring the Island into the 21st Century?" The four photos 
within the article picture a Havana street with decaying buildings amid passive 
onlookers, a dimly lit bar/cafeteria with a caption describing it as having the 
"ambience of an Edward Hopper painting" (46), a dark photo of the Maiecon 
(seawall) focusing on a lone Cuban looking away from Havana and a night 
photo of the five-story-tall image of Che Guevara on a government building 
at the Plaza of the Revolution. 

In the text, Cohen terms the Cuban government "rep ressive," "oppressive" 
"ruthless," "totalitarian" and filled with "secrecy" and "obfuscation." "Fidel has 
been nothing if not a brilliant puppet master" (5 1 ) . "Fidel's commun ist revolu- 
tion, at 50, has carried a terrible price for his people, dividing the Cuban nation, 
imprisoning part of it and bringing economic catastrophe" (70). While Cohen 
does pay homage to the revolutionary gains in education and health care, he 
asks, "Why give them a great education and no life" (51 )? Cohens conversations 
and anecdotes leave us with the implication that, more than anything, most 
Cubans would like to leave the island. 

The Mind's Eye 65 

Maynard Seider 

Day Three: We make a surprise stop at one of Havana's tree-lined resi- 
dential neighborhoods, where we enter John Lennon Park. Tourists seeking 
this park need to be careful not to confuse John with another Lenin, Vladimir, 
who has a different park named after him, on the outskirts of Havana. Our very 
knowledgeable guide tells us the story of this park, a tale that reminds us that 
governments, even one-party governments, can change. In the 1 970s, at the 
height of the Beatles' popularity, many young Cuban men began wearing their 
hair long, in the style of so many adolescents around the world. The Cuban 
government frowned on this practice, seeing it as a sign of rebellion, and one 
day In Havana, the police picked up many of the youths and forcibly gave them 
haircuts. That action brought outrage from the Cuban population and later 
shame to the government. Cuba's leaders came to appreciate the politics of the 
Beatles and Fidel, in particular, was taken by John Lennons lyrics "1 hey say that 
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." 'the Cuban government apologized for 
the forced haircuts; one of those 1970s adolescents is now minister of culture; 
and a wonderful likeness of John Lenno in bronze now sits on a bench in the 
park that bears his name. While the statue is respected by Cubans and tourists 
alike, the slim glasses that grace John's nose have a tendency to be stolen, but today 
the glasses lie where they belong, and a plainclothes guard keeps his own eye on 
them. We all enjoy taking pictures of ourselves sitting on the bench and I take the 
opportunity to offer my hat to John, making him an instant Red Sox fan. 

We leave the park to visit CENESEX, the National Center for Sexual Educa- 
tion, located in a beautiful old European-style building in another residential 
area of Havana. We sit on chairs in a courtyard, an area undergoing renova- 
tion, and gaze up at the picture-perfect blue sky while we soak up the warm 
winter air, temperature in the 70s, just perfect for our mixed Canadian/U.S. group. 
We had been told that we might meet Mariela Castro Espin, Raul's daughter, a Ph.D. 
sexologist and director of the center, but in her absence the assistant director greets 
us, a warm woman in her early 50s, informally dressed, as is the Cuban custom. 

At first, the Revolutionary government oppressed homosexuals and women 
lacked access to safe abortions. During the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the 
government isolated infected Cubans from the rest of the population, but as 
knowledge of the disease and tolerance toward its carriers grew, that practice 
ended. With the development of a universal public health system, medically 
safe abortions became a woman's right and family planning a dominant part of 
medical services. While the Communist government has become much more 
tolerant of religious observance in Cuba, the Catholic Church has generally 

66 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Seidcr 

lacked power, and the bulk of the religiously practicing population engages in an 
amalgam of African and Catholic rituals, in a form called Santeria. The govern- 
ment has gradually come around to recognizing the rights of gay Cubans, and 
their acceptance stands out as exemplary in comparison with most other Latin 
American countries. I remember those changing limes during my first visit to 
Cuba in 1 998, when the film Strawberry and Chocolate, a film that treats a gay 
writer with respect and understanding, was playing to popular audiences. 

And now we meet at this government-sanctioned agency with a mission of 
educati ng and fighting homophobia. Its other goals include instituting a change 
in the Cuban family code recognizing the validity of same-sex families and the 
elimination of all forms of violence against women. While accurate statistics 
on domestic violence remain difficult to gather, Professor Nunez believes that 
the Canadian and U.S. rates surpass that of Cuba. However, with the housing 
shortage in Cuba, many female victims of violence continue to live with their 
abusers. And Cuba still lacks "safe houses" for women. 

Day Four: We drive ten miles east of central Havana, heading to the 
Organoponico Vivero Alamar, one of Cuba's most successful urban organic 
farms. Our bus winds its way through traffic amid the continuing urban envi- 
ronment. We soon round a corner, spot a colorful entrance and exit our bus. 
We walk into a beautiful green zone, with well-tended farm plots, irrigation 
pipes, greenhouses, lovely coconut palms, all within sight of high-rise gray-block 
buildings just past the farm's windmill. An organoponico refers to raised-bed 
farming, each structure roughly 30 square yards, containing soil and compost 
or other organic material. Specifically oriented to small urban sites, these plots 
have spread rapidly throughout Cuba. While this farm has organoponico in its 
title, crops planted directly into the ground fill most of its nearly 30 acres. 

Hie cooperative's president, Miguel Saldnes, a tall, light-skinned man in 
his early 70s, greets us. Sitting in the shade, we listen to the story of the farm's 
history. Salcines himself comes from the upper class, but his family lost its 
land in the revolutionary agricultural reforms. Salcines subsequently worked 
as an agronomist in the Agricultural Ministry but in 1997 joined with four 
other Cubans to start a coop on less than ten acres of what was then termed 
"wasteland." The coop has done remarkably w'ell since then and has achieved the 
Cuban classification of "excefencia," one of only 82 such farms in the country so 
designated. From five workers it has grown to a workforce of 170, and its annual 
production of vegetables has increased from 20 to 240 tons (Koont 54). The 
coop receives some help from foreign nongovernmental organizations, as well 

The Mind's Eye 67 

Maynard Seider 

as the European Union, and in particular, from the German government. 

During the 1990s, Cuba moved quickly into organic agriculture after the 
fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries cost them the vast bulk 
of their trade, including thei r prime source of oil and petrochemicals. All of a 
sudden, the Cubans lacked the oil-based fertilizer, pesticides and fuel for the 
tractors that they had traditionally used during the Soviet, era. Out of necessity, 
the Cubans switched to organic agriculture, relying on oxen, not tractors, and 
learning new/old ways of production, aided by local highly skilled agricultural 
researchers. Now farmers and researchers from countries around the world 
come to Cuba to learn how they do it. Salcines joked that the real fathers of 
organic agriculture in Cuba are Ronald Reagan, for keeping Cuba in the Soviet 
orbit, and Michael Gorbachev, for finishing off the Soviet Union. 

T learned about Cuba's organic "revolution" three or four years ago. A few 
years before that, on a winter study trip with students to Cuba (just prior to 
changes mandated by the Bush administration that ended that practice), we 
visited the agriculturally rich Pinar del Rio Province west of Havana, At one 
point, we went horseback riding through farmland and 1 spotted a farmer 
plowing behind a team of oxen. I thought then that maybe tractors hadn't yet 
made it out to this area, but as I later realized, they probably had, only to be 
abandoned during the '90s. 

One member of our group, a Saskatchewan farmer, recalls a visit years 
earlier when his father traveled to Cuba with an agricultural delegation to 
discuss cattle raising. His father told him that one day when they were about 
to head out to the fields, Raul Castro, at that time minister of defense, joined 
the group. I don't think either of us realized how much food production was 
on Raul's mind, but when 1 arrived home, I read about his longtime concern 
over agricultural production, Since the 1970s, the Cubans had been research- 
ing ways to increase domestic food production as a matter of national security, 
since they faced the continuous U.S. blockade and had little in the way of their 
own petroleum resources. Experiments growing vegetables without oil-based 
fertilizers proved successful and in December 1987, the use of organoponicos 
began on Cuban army bases, some four years prior to the fall of the Soviet 
Union ! At the end of 1 99 1 , with the Soviet Unions demise, organoponicos were 
introduced into Havana and then throughout Cuba (Koont 45-46). 

Prior to the Revolution, 80 percent of the population lived in the country- 
side and 20 percent in the cities, but now we find those percentages reversed. 
So the need for urban agriculture, to grow the food where the people live, has 

68 The Minds Eye 

Maynard Seider 

become even more vital. In his opening remarks, Miguel Salcines tells us that 
53 percent of the rural land is not currently in use, reflecting the reality that 
most young Cubans do not want to farm nor live in the countryside. Rather, 
he says they want to work as computer scientists, doctors or musicians. 

That problem appears comparable to an even greater one that the Cuban 
government has been facing for the past decade and a half, a desire on the part 
of Cuban youth to work in the tourist industry. There, Cuban hotel employees 
and tour guides can earn higher salaries than doctors, engineers and teachers. 
While Lhe reforms of the 1 990s, which included an expansion of the tourist economy 
enabled the Cubans to make it through a very difficult period, it paradoxically 
brought with it a growing "class" dimension to this socialist state. 

Earlier in the fall of 2008, Cuba suffered through three devastating hur- 
ricanes, storms that destroyed or damaged 20 percent of the country's homes 
and wiped out significant agricultural harvests. After viewing the devastation 
wrought by Hurricane Gustav, Fidel wrote that it reminded him of the leveling 
of Hiroshima, the result of a nuclear bomb (Castro). We learn that because of 
the storms, fresh vegetables have only recently become available to most Cubans. 
We enjoy some of those fresh vegetables at the wonderful lunch that the Vivero 
Alamar hosts for us, along with a variety of meats and fish, the traditional rice 
and beans and coconut milk. 

Every night in the days leading up to January first, popular bands play in 
the Anti-Imperialist Tribune, a plaza by the Malecon and directly in front 
of the U.S. interest section, a seven- story nondescript gray office building. 
During the Carter administration, when there had been a slight thaw in 
U.S./Cuban relations, the two countries established relations below the am- 
bassadorial level, leading to interest sections in both capitals. For years, 
the Cubans have accused the top officials in the interest section of seeking out 
and financially supporting Cuban dissidents for propaganda purposes. When 
the U.S. installed an electronic sign on the side of the building that criticized 
Cuba's human-rights record, the Cubans responded by erecting dozens of 
flagpoles, placed only a few feet apart in front of the sign, effectively blocking 
it out. As the 50th anniversary nears, the government hoists Cuban flags on 
each pole, producing a colorful tableau and effectively blocking any reading of 
the electronic political messages. 

Day Five: We leave Havana, heading east, passing farm cooperatives, orange 
groves and grazing cattle in Matanzas Province. Soon the terrain becomes more 
mountainous and we drive through the foothills of the Escambray Mountains, 

The Mind's Eye 69 

Maynard Scider 

which dominate Las Villas Province, in the center of Cuba. In 1958, Fidel sent 
Che to these mountains to defeat Batista's troops and to effectively cut the is- 
land in half, thereby bolstering the rebels' hold on the eastern end of Cuba. We 
visit the Armored Train Museum in Santa Clara, the site where on December 
29th, the forces commanded by Che sabotaged the tracks, capturing the train 
carrying Batista's troops and a huge cache of weapons. Two days later, on New 
Years Eve, Batista fled Cuba and the era of Revolutionary rule began. 

Santa Clara also boasts a huge statue of Che the comandante, in front of 
the Che Guevara museum and burial site. For many years after Che's death 
in Bolivia, the location of his burial was unknown, but in 1997, the Bolivian 
government returned his remains to Cuba. As we walk through the room that 
contains the burial crypt and an eternal flame, our voices hush as we pause in 
that sacred space. 

Day Six: After spending the previous afternoon and night in Trinidad, 
a U.N. World Heritage Site, and one of the oldest cities in the Americas, we 
climb onto old Soviet Army trucks for the motorized trek up the Lscambrays 
to the lopes de Collantes. It's bumpy and cold, but we enjoy the new scenery, 
reminders of New England pines and ferns, along with more tropical bamboos 
and eucalyptus trees. We pass small villages and vistas to the Caribbean, now 
miles and miles away. It feels good to get out of the city. A young man who 
possesses an encyclopediac knowledge of the flora and fauna that inhabit this 
lovely land leads us in a most enjoyable exploration of the area. On our walk 
we spot the dark- red beans on the coffee plants and are treated to a sighting of 
the colorful Tocororo, Cuba's national bird. 

Day Seven: Up at dawn, we head back to Havana and the Jose Marti 
International Airport. Some of our group extends their stay in Cuba while 
others have different flights to catch. Most of us fly back to Toronto. There we 
say good-bye to our Canadian friends and the next day head south to home. 
It's a Sunday and Sheila reads some of the articles in The New York Times, just 
to get up to date. Turns out there's an article on Cuba by Anthony DePalma, 
and we're soon reminded of the negative stereotypes from the U.S. press that 
Professor Nunez itemized for us a week ago. DePalma writes that the Cuban 
Revolution has been an enormous failure, economically, socially and politi- 
cally. He fails to even give grudging credit to the Cubans for their free and 
universal systems of health care and education. He seems offended that Raul 
Castro might want something in exchange from Barack Obama if Castro were 
to release some political prisoners, especially in exchange for what the author 

70 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Seider 

Havana billboard with photograph of the 'Tive Heroes," Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. 
after infiltrating right-wing exile groups to learn of their terrorist plans for Cuba. 
(Photograph by the author.) 

refers to as "five convicted Cuban spies." For the Cubans, these are the "Five 
Heroes," as we saw from numerous billboards and explanations throughout 
our visit. They have been imprisoned in Florida for ten years, not for spying 
on the U.S. government but for infiltrating right-wing Cuban-exile groups to 
learn of their plans to commit acts of sabotage and terrorism back in Cuba. 
They entered the U.S. to stop terrorism on Cuban soil, a practice that the CIA 
and numerous exile groups have engaged in for the past five decades. The U.S. 
press basically ignores the case. The Cuban government wants the five freed or 
at least to have a new trial outside the greater- Miami area. Rather than giving 
his readers any of that voluminous history, DePalma simply refers to the five 
as "spies " Absent any context, it then makes sense for DePalma to view Fidel 
Castro's hostility to the United States as "pathological." 

The picture of Cuba I bring back home is one of an imperfect society, but 
one that has done a reasonably good job of taking care of the basic needs of its 
population— health care, education, food, work and housing. On that level, C. 
Wright Mills would be impressed with those gains, particularly given the em- 
bargo and half century of U.S. hostility. He would likely approve of the Cubans' 

The Mind's Eye 71 

Maynard Slider 

ability to push ideology aside and make reforms— even those that smacked of 
capitalism— to emerge from the Special Period. As he had in 1960, Mills would 
still worry about Cuba's dependence on that one charismatic leader, though 
the transition to Raul and, probably more important, the institutionalization 
of the Revolution's gains might well lighten those concerns. Just before his 
death, Mills was working on a broader study of Latin America and prospects 
for revolutionary change. No doubt he would appreciate the shifts to the Left 
throughout Latin America over the past decade, and the role that Cuba, as a 
model and an ally, has played in that process. 

What is the meaning of Cuba? Cuba has demonstrated that a socialist 
island can exist and grow in a fiercely capitalist environment. It has managed 
that, however, by showing a willingness to change, to adjust, even when it goes 
against its most basic principles. The Cubans have learned from the past, one of 
Spanish colonialism and of neocolonialism, and of the dangers of overdepen- 
dence on first the United States and then the Soviet Union. When faced with 
crisis in the 1990s, the Cubans knew the necessity of change, but they wanted 
neither to go back to their pre-Revolutionary past nor to endure the "shock 
treatment" (Klein) accepted by Russia, the former Soviet republics and their 
Eastern Bloc allies in their rapid transition to the dictates of the "market." 

Were Mills alive and offering a new edition of his 1960 broadside, he 
might very well keep the same title, and hope that this time a rigid U.S. 
policy toward Cuba might finally change. Raul Castro might well have such 
a hope as he observes the beginning of the Barack Obama administration 
in Washington. That hope, or maybe jusi a wish, allows him to answer the 
question that an interviewer recently posed to him; Where might he want 
to meet with the new U.S. president? Raul replies, " 'Perhaps we could meet 
at Guantanamo. We must meet and begin to solve our problems, and at the 
end of the meeting, we could give the president a gift. [We] could send him 
home with the American flag that waves over Guantanamo Bay' " (Nation 19). 

72 The Mind's Eye 

Maynard Seider 

Works Cited 

Castro, Fidel, 4 Sept. 

Cohen, Roger. "The End of the End of the Revolution." The New York Times 

Magazine 7 Dec. 2008: 44-51, 68-70. 
DePalma, Anthony. "History Lessons for a New President." Week in Review, 

The New York Times 4 Jan. 2009: S. 
Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." New 

York: Holt, 2007. 

Koont, Sinan. "The Urhan Agriculture of Havana." Monthly Review Jan. 2009: 

Landau, Saul. "Cuba: A Half-Century of Distorted News and Counting. . ." Nacia: 

Report on the Americas May/June 2008: 49-52. 
Mills, C. Wright. Listen, Yankee: " The Revolution in Cuba." New York: Bal- 

lantine, I960. 

Penn.Sean. "Conversations with Chavez and Castro." TheNation 15 Dec. 2008: 

The Mind's Eye 73 

Factors Affecting Language 
Use in Two Franco -American 

ver the course of the 19th and early-20th centuries, nearly one mil- 

lion French-Canadian immigrants formed tightly knit communities 

throughout the northeastern United States. Until quite recently, these 
Franco-Americans were able to maintain their language with surprising vigor 
through the creation of French-speaking institutions and social networks 
(Roby 1990, 2000). 

Recent self-reports on frequency of language use gathered from inter- 
views with Franco- American consultants in eight locations throughout New 
England have revealed an interesting contrast between two communities that 
were once remarkably similar. Despite the many parallels between Southbridge, 
Massachusetts, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island, the shift from French to English 
is now more advanced in Southbridge than in any other community studied. 

74 The Mind's Eye 


Louis E. Stelling 

62% of speakers use the language often (18%) or daily (44%) while 
only 26% claim to use it rarely (20%) or never (6%). When broken 
down by community, these percentages tend to hold fairly well. , , . 
In Southbridge on the other hand, less than 20% said they used 
French daily, while nearly 30% said they never speak it. (Fox 2007, 

After comparing and contrasting the two communities, this author seeks 
to explain the differences observed between Southbridge and Woonsocket 
through an exam i nation of recent census statistics (1 970-2000) and an analysis 
of data gathered during fieldwork. 

Similarities Between the Two Communities 

One fact that makes the two communities comparable is that the massive 
immigration to both places drew relatively homogenous Francophone popula- 
tions from the same geographical region over roughly the same time period. 
The first French-Canadian family to settle in Woonsocket came as early as 
1814 or 1815 (Bonier 95). Southbridge (which was incorporated only in 1816) 
saw the arrival of French-Canadian emigrants approximately 17 years later, in 
1832 (Gatineau 15; Brown 26). They were joined by friends and family who 
filled the towns to work in bustling factories. The families who settled in both 
places came not only from the same rural region of Quebec but from many of 
the very same small towns. In the 1830s, for example, immigrants from the 
town of St. Ours in the Richelieu valley settled in high numbers in both 
locations (Brault 56). 

By 1900, Franco-Americans made up 60% of the populations of both 
Southbridge and Woonsocket (Brault 54-55). Their numbers continued to 
grow until the 1930s, when the Depression and changing immigration laws 
ended the arrival of new Francophones (Brault; Roby 1990, 2000; Weil). By this 
time, French speakers represented a clear majority in both locations, which had 
become two of New-England's oldest and most well-known Franco-American 

Both communities began to show social stratification as Franco-Americans 
profited from the social mobility afforded them by their majority status. In fact, 
Franco- American politicians were very active and therefore quite visible in 
both communities (Brown; Bonier). The presence of several wealthy families 
from France and Belgium added to the prominence of French in Woonsocket 
(Bonier 457-58, 466-71). 

'the Mind's Eye 75 

Louis E. Steliing 

Franco-Americans promoted the language actively in both locations, 
creating an impressive number of groups, including mutual societies, social 
clubs, various sources of media and parish organizations (Brault 99). The 
Catholic Church played a key role in language maintenance and transmission 
through bilingual parochial schools made possible by the establishment of 
Franco- American national parishes. French was also com monly used in places 
of work such as factories and mills, where Franco-Americans worked together 
in large numbers (Bonier; Brault; Brown; Gatineau). Complex French-language 
infrastructures in both places therefore provided a good deal of support for 
the language at the close of the immigration phase. 

Recent Census Figures 

Since the 1930s, language shift has been advancing in both communities. 
French is no longer commonly used at work. The Masses in French and bilingual 
programs gradually disappeared. Along with the decline of French in work, 
education and religion, many of the social clubs that had been so important in 
promoting the language have disappeared (Steliing "Morphosyntactic"). Cur- 
rently, French is used mainly among family members and friends, and even 
these domains have been greatly penetrated by English. In other words, there 
is no longer a single domain that is reserved exclusively for French in either 
community (Fox and Smith). 

Within 40 years of the end of immigration, the percentage of Southbridge 
residents born in Canada had fallen to only 1 7. 1 %, a number that has contin- 
ued to decline. According to the 1970 United States census, however, the ratio 
of residents claiming French as a "mother tongue" to those claiming to speak 
"English only" was still 0.78 : 1. While the question of "mother tongue" does 
not tell us who was still actually using the language in Southbridge, it is pos- 
sible to conclude that there were stdl more than three people who had grown 
up speaking French to every four monolingual speakers of English. 

In Woonsocket, language shift did not advance quite as quickly. In 1970, 
French -Canadian immigrants represented 26.5% of the total population. While 
this figure is only sl ightly elevated when compared with 1 7. 1 % in Southbridge, 
mother-tongue statistics reveal that the French language was maintained in 
the home to a greater extent by Woonsocket residents. Nearly 27,000 of these 
claimed French as a mother tongue, while the "English only" group numbered 
fewer than 14,000 in 1970. "Ihus, there were nearly twice as many people who 
had grown up speaking French as there were who spoke only English. Because 

76 The Minds Eye 

Louis E. Stdiing 

immigration had ceased 40 years earlier, this shows that transmission of the 
French language in Woonsocket must have been considerably more common 
than in Southbridge between 1930 and 1970. The resulting situation was that 
while Francophones had already become a minority in Southbridge, they were 
still the majority in Woonsocket. 

US. census reports from 1990 and 2000 (see table 1 ) confirm that a greater 
percentage of Woonsocket residents declared French or French-Canadian 
ancestry as well as French use in the home in both years. However, both com- 
munities are changing dramatically. Residents declaring French ancestry fell 
from 55.1% to 40.3% in Woonsocket and from 40.5% to 30.2% in Southbridge. 
French use in the home feli from 19.6% to 9.9% in Woonsocket and from 8.5% 
to only 5,4% in Southbridge. 

If we compare Woonsocket in 2000 with Southbridge i n 1 990, we can notice 
approximately 40% French ancestry in both cases and that percentages of French 
home use are similar (9.9% vs. 8.5%). Although language shift is currently less 
advanced in Woonsocket than in Southbridge, the two are clearly following the 
same path. In Southbridge, language shift is so advanced that fewer than 700 
people reported use of French in the home in 2000. Moreover, not a single one 
was under the age of 18, In other words, language transmission ceased in the 
community at least one full generation ago. 

Differences Between the Two Communities 

These census figures themselves suggest one possible explanation for 
the fact that language shift has progressed at different rates in the two com- 
munities. In terms of its total population, Woonsocket is and has always been 
significantly larger than Southbridge. Although the compositions of these 
communities remained nearly identical even after the end of the immigration 
period, Woonsocket may be more resistant to language shift due to its size as the 
location has consistently been home to a greater number of French speakers. 

In addition to the size of these communities, another difference between 
Woonsocket and Southbridge is not found in statistics but rather in attitudes 
expressed toward language and assimilation. While both communities show 
conservative language attitudes and a low level of esteem for their variety of 
French as compared with others (Fox Variation; Stelling "Attitudes"; Ftagate), 
they differ in the value that Franco-American residents have placed on incor- 
porating English into their lives. 

In Southbridge, local politician, historian and activist Felix Gatineau was 

Ihe Mind's Eye 77 

Louis E. Stdling 

very involved in encouraging French-Canadian immigrants to be naturalized 
and assert their newfound rights as Americans th rough the early 20th century. 
The Franco-American hero founded the Club de Naturalisation in 1892 with 
the goal of introducing French-Canadian immigrants to the laws of the United 
States. One Southbridge native and French speaker (SO01) comments; 

The French Canadian especially had a great influence in the develop- 
ment of Southbridge, business- wise politically also . . . tremendous . . . 
and thanks to Felix of course a lot of this took place because he saw 
to it that French Canadians . . . have a better life and prosper. 

Mr. Gatineau was certainly a champion of the Franco-American commu- 
nity and an important historical figure in the town of Southbridge. His statue 
stands today, just across from Notre-Dame church in the Globe Village, one of 
the two Franco-American neighborhoods in town. The goals set forth by the 
naturalization club and the general attitude promoted in town at the onset of 
the 20th century may have in fact encouraged Franco-Americans to assimilate 
to American society in order to benefit as much as possible from the social and 
economic opportunities available to them. 

Although the abandonment of French itself was not specifically a goal 
of the club, the importance that Franco-Americans in Southbridge placed on 
adopting English may explain why language shift would advance ni ore quickly 
there than in Woonsocket, where attitudes were more hostile toward linguistic 
assimilation at the end of the immigration period. 

In fact, Woonsocket was at the heart of a five-year quarrel that pitted 
moderate and militant Franco- Americans against each other during the late 
1920s, just as the massive immigration from Quebec was coming to an end 
(Roby 2000, 238-65), This movement was named the Sentinelle affair after 
a French-language newspaper established in 1924 by the militant Elphege J, 
Daignault and his followers, who quickly began to draw support from other 
Franco- American centers in New England (Brault 87-88; Sorrell 342-43). 

[These Sentinel! ists] felt that la survivance, which their ancestors in 
Quebec had fought so long to maintain, was being threatened , . , 
these militant Francos identified the principal "Americanizing" threat 
as the Irish hierarchy of the Catholic Church. They felt that the Irish 
took advantage of their dominant position within the Church by 
attempting to force Catholic immigrant groups who arrived later 
than most Irish, and unlike them did not speak English, to quickly 

78 "Ihe Mind's Eye 

Louis E. SUUiHg 

assimilate themselves. Daignault el al. also distrusted increasing 
centralization of diocesan act ivities which, they felt, threatened the 
autonomy of individual Franco- American parishes. (Sorrell 343) 

These Sentinellists, who demanded that French be placed on equal footing with 
English in Franco -American schools, became increasingly aggressive in their 
campaigns. After militants petitioned Rome and were refused support by the 
Pope, they brought a civil suit against the Church and promptly engaged in 
a boycott of all monetary contributions such as pew rentals (Sorrell 343-44; 
Roby 2000, 256-57). 

Only after the 1 928 excommunication of 62 of those who had initiated or 
supported a civil suit against Bishop William Hickey would these campaigns 
come to a close. When every one of the excommunicated signed repentance 
forms in 1929, the movement officially died (Brault 88). 

However, while the movement was no longer active after the 1920s, the 
feelings stirred up by the Sentinelle affaire were far from extinguished: 

The Sentinellists struck a responsive chord hi many ordinary Franco- 
Americans: at the height of the crisis, in 1 927, approximately ten 
thousand turned out for a protest rally in Woonsocket. The contro- 
versy is far from forgotten today. . . . (Brault 88) 

The Sentinelle affair marked a breaking point for support for the French 
language by the Catholic Church in New England. Since the 1 930s, faith or al- 
legiance to the Catholic Church and mother-tongue maintenance are no longer 
one and the same for Franco-Americans (Brault; Roby 1990, 2000). Interestingly, 
this author has not been able to locate a single mention of any involvement in 
the Sentinelle affair by prominent Southbridge residents or organizations. 

Thus, while the Franco-American communities of Southbridge and 
Woonsocket were formed in a parallel fashion, by Identical percentages of im- 
migrants from the same locations over the same time period, key differences 
began to emerge at the same time that immigration was ending. In Southbridge, 
attitudes toward adopti ng English were generally positive, whereas Woonsocket 
residents remained very much divided on the issue, with a core of militants 
whose loyalty to their mother tongue was nothing short of impressive. 

Results of Fieldwork 

Southbridge and Woonsocket are two of eight New England communities 
targeted in a collaborative sociolinguistic research project led by professors Cynthia 

Ike Mind's Eye 79 

Louis E, Stelling 

Fox (University at Albany) and Jane Smith (University of Maine, Orono) . During 
fieklwork, interviews were conducted with at least 30 Franco- Americans from 
each community, 275 in all. Interviews were guided by use of a questionnaire 
to gather information on topics such as the acquisition, use and transmission 
of French and access to Francophone culture and media. A translation task 
(English to French) was also used to elicit structures that are infrequent in con- 
versation. As shown in table 2. 1 , the Southbridge corpus consists of interviews 
with 35 consultants. These 19 men and 16 women range in age from 44 to 92, 
The 34 consultants interviewed in Woonsocket (see table 2.2) are 15 men and 
19 women between the ages of 25 and 86. 

Consultants were divided into five categories based on their self-reports 
on frequency of language use. As shown in table 3, 1 1 speakers (16%) claim 
that they never use French. Nineteen (28%) rarely use the language. On rare 
occasions, these informants speak French but only with certain family members 
or friends. Seven consultants (10%) report occasional use of French. On average, 
these consultants speak French no more than once per week or have very few people 
with whom they consistently use the language. Ten speakers (14%) use the language 
frequendy, or several times per week, with a number of people. The largest group 
(32%) consists of 22 speakers who claim to use French every day 

These categories were assigned numerical values representing their order 
from zero (never) to four (daily). By averaging these scores, patterns in fre- 
quency of language use were identified for Southbridge and Woonsocket with 
respect to the following speaker characteristics: age, sex, number of generations 
in the U.S., employment status (professional vs. working class), language(s) of 
schooling, language transmission, type of marriage (endolinguistic vs. exo- 
linguistic) and community of residence, Once these patterns were verified, a 
binomial analysis was performed in order to explain which of these factors 
have the most determinant effect on frequent or daily use of French among 
these 69 consultants. 

Patterns in Frequency of Language Use 

Frequency of language use (table 3) among consultants reveals an impor- 
tant contrast between the two communities. In Woonsocket, 65% (n=22) of 
informants use French often (n=6) or daily (n=16), compared with only 28% 
(n=10) in Southbridge. Also, 63% (n=22) of Southbridge speakers rarely or 
never use French, compared with 24% (n=8) in Woonsocket. When language- 

80 The Mind's Eye 

Louis E. Stdling 

among all 69 consultants was 2.19. Comparatively, Southbridge speakers had 
an average score of only 1.54, whereas Woonsocket speakers averaged 2.85. 

'lhe speaker distributions by age (shown in table 4) reveal another inter- 
esting contrast between Southbridge and Woonsocket. In terms of age, in both 
corpora speakers in their 70s are the most common and speakers under the 
age of 50 are quite rare. We can also see that the relationship between age and 
language use is not perfectly linear. Rather, it follows a bell shape, with speak- 
ers in their 60s using French the most often. In addition, speakers above the 
age of 60 report that they use French more frequently than younger speakers, 
and French speakers under the age of 50 are quite rare. These speakers use 
French the least, with an average of only 1.75. Speakers from ages 50 to 59 use 
French somewhat more, but still rarely to occasionally on the whole (mean = 
1.86). Speakers in their 60s use French much more often (often to daily) than their 
younger counterparts, averaging 3.08. Speakers in their 70s use French occasion- 
ally to often, with a mean average of 2.16, which is very close to the mean of 2. 19 
observed overall. The oldest speakers, who are in their 80s and 90s, use French 
occasionally, at 2.00, but still more than both groups below the age of 60. 

Although elderly informants do speak French more than speakers under 
60, we might expect the very oldest speakers to use the language the most. 
However, for many of these older speakers, use of French with friends is becom- 
ing increasingly rare as members of their social networks either stop using the 
language themselves or simply pass away. Speaker SO07 commented, "I have a 
lot of friends that are French, French people, we never speak French though . . , some 
of them cant speak it anymore." Speaker SOI 5, who was 86 on the day of the 
interview (and is now deceased), commented that it is difficult to find others 
his age to speak with other than his wife, as most of their friends have passed 
away or aren't in good enough health to be mobile. He said, "Aujourd'hui c'est 
fim . . . peut-etre on est parmi les derniers qui parlent aidant comme on park" 
("Today it's over ... we might be among the last who speak as much as we do"). 
This situation most likely explains why speakers in their 60s showed a higher 
frequency of French-language use than did the oldest informants. 

Table 5 shows sex by frequency of use of French and by community. 
Although there are more females than males in Woonsocket and more males 
than female speakers in Southbridge, the corpora are quite well balanced in 
terms of sex when combined. The 34 men interviewed appear to use French 
much less frequently than the 35 female consultants. Women showed a mean 
score of 2.49, whereas men averaged only 1.88. 

The Mind's Eye 81 

Louis E. Sidling 

Number of generations in the United States (table 6) also provided in- 
teresting results. Speakers were broken down into four generations as follows: 
(1) immigrants, (2) one or both of their parents were immigrants, (3) both of 
their parents were born on American soil and (4) their grandparents were born 
in the United States. Franco-Americans who are themselves immigrants used 
the language the most, with a mean score of 3.33. Consultants whose parents 
immigrated from Canada showed an average of 2.28. Informants who are the 
grandchildren of immigrants used the language much less than the previous 
two generations, with an average of only 1.29. 

There were only three speakers whose grandparents were not born in 
Canada. All three individuals were very enthusiastic, going out of their way 
to incorporate the French language into their lives. Consequently, they used 
French more (mean = 2.67) than did any of the other American-born infor- 
mants. Aside from these three, however, we see a clear pattern in which each 
group uses French less frequently than the preceding generation. 

Speakers were also grouped according to whether they were working-class 
or professionals. Working-class consultants earned their livi ng th rough manual 
labor or in another field in which no college education was required. All those 
who were required to attend college were labeled as professional class. Table 7 
shows that working-class speakers used French more frequently, with an aver- 
age of 2.61, than professional-class informants, who averaged only 1.68. 

Unlike speakers in many language death situations such as that of Cajun 
French, for example (Rottet), consultants from Woonsocket and Southbridge 
are literate in both French and English. The bilingual school programs (which 
56 of the 69 speakers attended) are largely responsible for this. Additionally, 
many younger speakers have studied French in high school or college. Of 
the 69 consultants interviewed in Southbridge and Woonsocket, all have had 
some education in English and all but one have had some formal education in 

As we can see in table 8, ten speakers have studied French only as a second 
or foreign language. They use French fairly infrequently on the whole, averaging 
only 1.1. Twenty-two speakers have had both bilingual schooling and French 
in a second-language classroom. They speak French more than those without 
any bilingual schooling but still averaged only 1 .82, falling short of the overall 
average of 2. 1 9 found in these communities. Interesti ngjy, informants who have 
had bilingual schooling and have never been in an L2 classroom use French 
more frequently than the previous groups, with a mean score of 2.60. The last 

82 Tin* Mmd's Eye 

Louis £. Sidling 

group consists of speakers who have had French as a sole medium of in struction 
at some point in their lives. All but two siblings (SO08 and SOG9) had also had 
bilingual schooling. These speakers use French often to daily, with an average 
of 3. 1 8. Regardless of whether or not they have had bilingual schooling, those 
who have had French in an L2 setting (mean = 1.10 for L2 only and 1.82 for 
bilingual + L2) used French less frequently than those who were never exposed 
to French as it is taught in a foreign -language classroom. 

Speakers were also classified according to the extent to which they have 
transmitted French to their children. As we look at the relationship between 
language transmission and frequency of language use by parents, a clear eause- 
and-effect chain is hard to establish. High frequency of language use could 
promote transmission just as transmission could raise frequency of language 
use for parents. On one hand, frequent use of French in the home encou rages 
language transmission. On the other hand, by passing their mother tongue along 
to the next generation, some parents in this corpus have created opportunities 
to speak French while others have not. Additionally, we are looking at total 
frequency of language use today, and not use in the home when these parents 
were raising their children. Nonetheless, we can see a clear pattern emerge 
in table 9 if we look at the relationship between language use and language 

Thirty-five consultants have transmitted some amount of French to their 
children. Fifteen speakers have at least one child who speaks French. Twenty 
have at least one child who understands French but does not speak it. These 
two groups showed very similar average frequencies of language use at 2.87 and 
2.85, respectively, both well above the overall average of 2.19. The remaining 
34 did not transmit any French to their children or did not have children at 
all. This last group speaks French only rarely to occasionally, with an average 
score of only 1.50. 

The last speaker characteristic taken into account in this analysis (see 
table 10) is type of marriage. Thirty-five speakers married other French speak- 
ers, these consultants speak French often, with an average score of 2.71. The 
remaining 34 did not marry other French speakers. This latter group can be 
divided into 18 who married non-French speakers (frequency mean = 1.56) 
and those who are not married ( frequency mean = 1 .75). Regardless of whether 
informants are single or married to a non- Francophone, they use French, only 
rarely to occasionally, fn other words, they speak the language much less fre- 
quently than those who did marry another French speaker. 

The Mind's Eye 83 

Louis E. Sidling 

Statistical Analysis 

Interestingly, each and every one of the eight speaker characteristics 
considered here demonstrates an observable pattern with respect to language 
maintenance. Because of the ordinal nature of the 0-to-4 scale, however, these 
mean averages can serve only to highlight apparent relationships. Correlations 
were thus examined between each of these factors and frequency of language 
use using version 11 of SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). In 
every case, the direction of these correlations confirmed the patterns identified 
above. When a significant test was administered, six of the eight correlations 
were significant beyond the 0,05 level and a seventh showed a possible trend. 
A logistic regression of the data was then performed in order to account for 
interaction among competing or confounding factors. Our research question 
was the following: Which factors favor frequent or daily use of French? The 
significance level of the final analysis was 0.008. 

As shown in table 11, three factor groups (speaker characteristics) 
were selected as having a significant effect on frequent or daily use of French. 
These were the languages of schooling, employment status and community of 

Language of schooling was chosen as the most-determinant-factor group. 
French as a medium of instruction strongly favors the use of French. Bilingual 
schooling also favors frequent language use, but to a lesser extent. Both fac- 
tors involving French as a second language (French as L2 only and bilingual 
schooling plus French as L2) had a negative impact on language use. Working 
vs. professional class was the secondmost-determinant-factor group. Worki ng- 
class status strongly favors frequent or daily use of French, while professional- 
class status strongly disfavors use of the language. Community of residence 
was the thirdmost-influential-factor group. Compared with consultants from 
Southbridge, informants from Woonsocket are much more likely to use French 
with high frequency. 


When we consider the three factor groups selected here, one striking link 
between them is the notion of language attitudes. In the United States, English 
is the language of power, prestige and financial opportunity. While it may have 
been true a century ago that French was a useful tool in the workplace in both of 
these communities, that is rarely the case today. While some blue-collar Franco- 
Americans may be surrounded by other French speakers at work, that is not the 

84 The Mind's Eye 

Louis E. Stelling 

case for the professional class living in these communities. Due to the absence 
of monolingual speakers of French, English is seen by Franco- Americans as 
the only language necessary for social and economic advancement today. 

The history of the French language (especially in education) is riddled 
with grammatical proscription (Chaurand; Perret). Many of the speakers in 
this corpus have had very negative experiences due to hostile attitudes toward their 
mother tongue in French L2 classrooms. It is altogether unsurprising that having 
been exposed to standard French, which speakers often refer to as "Parisian 
French," in a foreign-language classroom, where the teacher is rarely Franco- 
American, has had a negative impact on language maintenance. 

The crucial difference in the development of these communities is that 
since the 1930s, the shift from French to English has been accelerated in 
Southbridge when compared with Woon socket. A much smaller community, 
the Francophones of Southbridge showed a relatively strong will to become 
naturalized and to assimilate into American society from the very beginning 
of the 20th century. While the Francophones of Southbridge have become a 
fairly invisible minority in the town, with little support for their mother tongue, 
the French language enjoys a certain amount of support in Woonsocket, a city 
whose population widely recognizes its Franco-American heritage. 

The patterns identified in the pages above underscore the highly complex 
nature of the shift from French to English in Southbridge, Massachusetts, 
and Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Several qualitative studies of these and other 
Franco-American communities have suggested that language attitudes may 
be a determining factor in language shift (Fox 1995, 2005; Fox and Smith; Fox 
et al; Bagate; Stelling 2007). It is therefore quite interesting that results from a 
quantitative analysis of data gathered during fieldwork confirm this notion, 

Not only are Franco-Americans facing the spread of English but their 
mother tongue is also a stigmatized variety of French. Having been brought 
from France to Canada before the French Revolution, and then to the U.S. be- 
fore the French-Canadian cultural revolution, the language as it exists in New 
England lacks prestige. It is seen even by many Franco-Americans as ungram- 
matical, archaic, peppered with English and even impractical. It is likely that 
a great number of Franco- Americans (especially those having experienced 
attrition or imperfect acquisition of their mother tongue) may consequently 
be abandoning their language rather than continuing to use what they have 
been taught to see as "bad" French. 

7he Minds Eye 85 

Louis E. Sidling 

Table 1 Ancestry and French Use i n the Home 1 990-2000 









- 1.5 % 



French Ancestry 


55.1 % 



- 6,767 

-28.0 % 


French at Home 





- 4,228 

-49.1 % 





- 753 

- 5.5 % 


French Ancestry 





- 1,641 


| South 

French at Home 






-39.7 % 

*Iri 2000, no French home speakers under 1 8 were reported in Southbridge. Only 53 
were reported in Woonsocket. these figures are not available for 1990. 

86 The Mind's Eye 

Louis E. Stelling 

Table 2.1 Southbridge: Characteristics of the Informants 



Place of Birth 

in the US, 



Southbridge, MA 


SO 17 




SOI 5 




SO 16 












SO 1 9 












SO 13 
























SO 18 










Sanford, ME 











73 M 







SO 12 






Worcester, MA 







61 M 

Rigaud, Qc 























W r are, MA 




VanBuren, ME 






SO S7 




The Mind's Eye 87 

Louis £ Sidling 

Table 2.2 Woonsocket: Characteristics of the Informants 



Place of Birth 

in the U.S. 
(mat. /pat.) 


86 F 

Quebec, QC 



82 F 

Nashua, NH 



82 M 

Woonsocket, RI 



82 F 

Central Falls, R] 



79 M 

fourcoing, FR 


WO 16 

77 M 




77 F 




76 M 




76 M 




75 F 

Riviere-du-Loup, QC 


74 M 




72 F 




72 M 




72 M 



WO 15 

71 F 




71 M 




70 M 

Greenville, NT I 



70 F 

Pawtucket, RI 



69 F 




68 F 




67 M 

Frampton, QC 



66 M 




65 F 

Providence, RI 



61 F 



WO 10 

61 F 




59 F 

Blackstone, MA 


WO 13 

59 F 




59 F 




58 F 




53 M 




52 F 




49 F 




38 M 




25 M 



88 The Mind's Eye 

Louis E. Sidling 

Table 3 Frequency of French by Community of Residence 

Language Use 





10 (29%) 

1 (3%) 

11 (16%) 

1 Rarely 

12 (34%) 

7 (21%) 

!9 (28%) 

2 Occasionally 

3 (9%) 

4 (12%) 

7 (10%) 

3 Often 

4 (11%) 

6 (18%) 

10 (14%) 

4 Daily 

6 (17%) 

16 (47%) 

22 (32%) 





Table 4 Age by Frequency of French and Community of Residence 

Age Southbridge Woonsocket Total Frequency of 
































Table 5 Sex by Frequency of French and Community of Residence 

Sex Southbridge Woonsocket Total Frequency of 


Male 19 15 34 1.88 

Female 16 19 35 2.49 

Total 35 34 69 2.19 

The Mind's Eye 89 

Louis E. SteUmg 

Table 6 Number of Generations in the U.S.* by Frequency of French 
and Community of Residence 

Generation Southbridge Woonsocket Total Frequency of 






















(all 3 are anomalies) 






'The most recent generation was used here. 

Table 7 Employment Class by Frequency of French and Community of 

Class Southbridge Woonsocket Total Frequency of 


Working 18 20 38 2.61 

Professional 17 14 31 1.68 

Total 35 34 69 2.19 

Table 8 Language(s) of Schooling by Frequency ofFrenchand 
Community of Residence 

Language(s) Southbridge Woonsocket Total Frequency of 

of Schooling French 

English only 1 10 

(only one speaker) 

French as L2 





Bilingual and 1.2 










French as sole medium 










90 The Minds Eye 


Table 9 Language Transmission by Frequency of French and 

Community of Residence 

Transmission Southbridge Woonsocket Total Frequency of 









1 1 













Table 1 Type of Marriage by Frequency of French and Community of 

Marriage Southbridge Woonsocket Total Frequency of 






















The Mind's Eye 91 

Louis E Sidling 
Works Cited 

Bagate, Mariame, et a!. "Attitudes linguistiques et transfert a I'anglais dans une 
communaute franco-americaine nan homogene: k cas de Bristol (Con- 
necticut)." Francophonies d'Amirique 17 (2004): 17-33. 

Bonier, Marie-Louise. Debuts de la colonic franco-americaine de Woonsocket, 
Rhode Island. Framingham, MA; Lakeview, S920. 

Brault, Gerard ]. The French-Canadian Heritage in New England. Hanover, NH: 
UP of New England, 1986. 

Brown, Robert E. The New New Englanders. Worcester, MA; Commonwealth, 

Chaurand, Tacques. Nouveile Histoire de la languefrancaise. Paris; Eds. du Semi, 

Fox, Cynthia A. "Franco- American Voices; French in the Northeastern United 

States Today." The French Review 80.6 (2007): 1278-292. 
. "La Variation syntaxique a Woonsocket: ebauche d'une grammaire du 

Franco- Americain'' Franeais d'Amirique'. approches morphosyntaxujues. 

Ed. Patrice Brasseur and AnLka Falkert. Paris: L'Harmatton, 2005. 


. "On Maintaining a Francophone Identity in Cohoes, NY" The French 

Review 69.2 (1995): 264-74. 
Fox, Cynthia, and Jane Smith. "La Situation dufranfaisfranco-amerkain: aspects 

linguistiques et sociolinguistiques." Le francais en Amerique du Nord. Ed. 

Albert Valdman, Julie Auger and Deborah Piston-Halton. Sainte-Foy, 

QC: U Laval P, 2005. 117-42. 
Fox, Cynthia, et al. "L'identite franco-americaine: Tendances actuelles dans le 

sud de la Nouvelle-Angleterre." Canadian Review of American Studies 

37.1 (2007): 23-48. 

Gatineau, Felix. Histoire des Franco- Americains de Southbridgc, Massachusetts. 

Framingham, MA: Lakeview, 1919. 
Perret, M. Introduction a I'histoire de la languefrancaise. Paris: Campus Lin- 

guistique, 1999. 

Roby, Yves. Les Franco-Amerkains de la Nouvelle-Angleterre: Rives et realities. 

Sillery, QC: Septentrion, 2000. 
. Les Franco-Amerkains de la Nouvelle-Angleterre 1776-1930. Sillery, 

QC: Septentrion, 1990. 

92 The Mind's Eye 

Louis E. Sidling 

Rottet, Kevin [. Language Shift in the Coastal Marshes of Louisiana. New York: 
Lang, 2001. 

Sorrell, Richard S. "La Sentinelk and La Tribune: The Role of Woonsocket's 
French Language Newspapers in the Sentinelle Affair of the 1 920s." Stee- 
ples and Smokestacks: "A Collection of Essays on the Franco-American 
Experience in New England." Ed. Claire Quintal. Worcester, MA: Eds, 
de lmstitut francais, 1996. 342- 56. 

Selling, Louis. "Attitudes linguistiques et transfert a langlais dans la commu- 
nautefranco-americaine de Southbridge (Massachusetts)." Francophonies 
d'Amerique 23-24 (2007): 231-51. 

. "Morphosyntactic Variation and Language Shift in Two Franco- 
American Communities." Diss,, SUNY Albany, 2008. 

United States Census Bureau. 1970 Census of the Population: General Social 
and Economic Characteristics: Massachusetts. 

. 1980 Census of the Population: General Social and Economic Char- 
acteristics: Massachusetts. 

. 1 990 Census Summary '1 ape File 3A. 

. Census 2000 Summary Tape File 3A. 

Vicero, R, "Immigration of Franch- Canadians to New England: 1840-1900. 

Diss., U of Wisconsin, 1968. 
Weil, Francois. Les Franco- Amerkains: 1860-1980. Paris: Belin, 1989. 


Book Review Essay 

Does History Matter? 


Lincoln President- Elect: "Abraham Lincoln and the Great 
Secession Winter 1860-1861," by Harold Holzer 

Simon & Schuster, 2008 

oes history matter? Of course it does, but how? This review focuses 

on a variation of that question —are there parallels between historic 

-1 — S and recent events that provide, if not actual lessons, at least valuable 
perspectives? Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday has been marked by a plethora 
of Lincoln articles and books, most notably Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of 
Rivals: "The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." This well- researched and 
-written tome sparked both scholarly and television- talking-head comparisons 
of Lincoln's choice of cabinet members with those of Barack Obama, especially 
their respective selections of party nomination rivals of William H, Seward and 
Hillary R. Clinton for secretary of state. The latest fodder to tempt presidential 
comparisons is Lincoln President- Elect: "Abraham Lincoln and the Great Seces- 
sion Winter 1860-1861." Historian Harold Holzer has meticulously documented 
the nationally tense four-month period between Lincoln's election on November 
6, 1860, and his inaugural address on March 4, 1861. True to the principles of 

94 The Mind's Eye 

Robert Bsnce 

the historian's craft, Holzer makes no references to future presidents and limits 
the scope of his research to this dramatic and anxious one-third year in the life 
of Lincoln and the rapidly disintegrating country. Holzers only major point, 
which he more than adequately demonstrates, is refuting the oft- made charge 
that Lincoln passively waited in Springfield to take his office. While this period 
and its president are uniquely fascinating, a reader's mind can easily slip to a 
search for Lincoln/Obama parallels. 

The superficial similarities of these presidents-elect and their transition 
periods abound. Both are former legislators from Illinois. Election turnout for 
each was extremely high. As candidates, they each had well- organized brigades 
of supporters who continued their procandidate activities after the elections. 
They both succeeded extremely unpopular lame-duck presidents who seemed 
paralyzed by the state of their nation, 1 he two men had contentious and com- 
petitive battles to win their party nominations, and there was constant media 
speculation about whom they would choose for supporting casts in their 
cabinets. Their first ladies are both intriguing and influential policy advisors to 
their spouses. Both Lincoln and Obama had no shortage of constant pressure 
from politicians and groups who w'ere trying to move them in opposite direc- 
tions on major issues of the day. Obama and Lincoln each proposed legislation 
before they actually assumed office and attempted to reach out to their political 
opponents in a spirit of conciliation. Both 1860 and 2008 saw the United States 
in times of troubles, and both presidents were burdened with great expecta- 
tions of supporters and trepidations of critics. Both 1861 and 2009 called out 
for decisive, tempered and wise leadership. 

But these parallels are indeed superficial, and century-separated contexts 
mean that, history, even with George Santayana's warning about ignoring the 
past at our peril duly noted, never exactly repeats itself. While the pain of our 
present recession and two-front wars have serious consequences for individuals 
and the nation, we are not facing a civil war. By the time Lincoln took office, 
seven Southern states had seceded. And the pros and cons of the Troubled 
Asset Relief Program do not tear at the fabric of American society as slavery 
did. Comparing Lincoln, Obama and their eras is definitely mixing historical 
apples and oranges. To extend the metaphor, it is a fruitless task. 

Lincoln's life between election and inauguration was not only two months 
longer than Obama's but infinitely more complex and pressurized. He was 
elected by only 40% of the popular vote, winning no Southern states, where 
often he was not even on the ballot. Lincoln did not have the luxury of choosing 

The Mind's Bye 95 

Robert Rence 

his vice president, Maine Senator Hannibal Hamlin, whom he met only once 
before the election. Following 19th-century customs, the president-elect had 
not campaigned publically for either the nomination or the election, so he had 
to introduce himself to his citizens. This required a well-organized long train 
trip with impromptu whistle-stop speeches from Springfield to Washington, 
D.C. And he was in competition with Jefferson Davis, who was taking his 
mirror-image preinaugural trip to become the president of the Confederacy. 
While it is difficult to identify objective media sources in the early 21st century, 
it was impossible in 1860-61. Newspapers were overtly partisan and Lincoln 
was vilified in all the Southern press and many Northern editorials. There was 
rarely a day during the four months when he was not besieged by inane claims 
of patronage seekers, and leaders from all parties implored him to compro- 
mise on his refusal to extend slavery to new states and territories to save the 
Union. In Springfield, Lincoln, always the receptive and usually jovial listener, 
seemingly turned away no request for an audience, no matter how demandi ng, 
unqualified or uninformed. The famous and infamous were welcomed. His only 
respite in those months was a quick trip to the Illinois plains to see his stepmother 
for the last time. And he always had to worry that the Electoral College might not 
even constitutionally legitimize his election in February. Although once seceded 
Southern state congressmen left D.C, Lincoln had tobe less concerned about losing 
the presidency if the House of Representatives had to make the decision. 

While Obama's process of filling cabinet posts was no doubt difficult, and 
certainly highly scrutinized, his task was simple compared with the immense 
pressure Lincoln was under. Should he include the rivals for the presidential 
nomination? How much regional balance should he seek? Should there be a 
border- state member? Holzer details this quandary and offers explanations 
of why Lincoln chose only one cabinet member, Seward as secretary of state, 
till right before his inauguration. Any early choices would convey a variety of 
signals that would have handicapped Lincoln's presidency before it began. 

By now, most of us have become immune to presidential death threats, 
but in 1 860-61 , they were more numerous and widely supported, especially by 
white Southerners who saw Lincoln's election as the beginning of a national 
apocalypse. The most real threat involved a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln 
in Baltimore on his public-relations train trip to Washington. On the advice of 
Genera] Wintield Scott, the Baltimore stop was canceled, and Lincoln had to 
counter the charges of being a coward by participating in more public events 
in Washington. 

96 Vie MincTs Eye 

Robert Bence 

Unlike today, Lincoln wrote his own speeches and inaugural address. Oc- 
casionally his off-the-cuff speeches were "off-message,'' as when on his train 
excursion he contradicted hi mself by first saying the Southern seizing of fed- 
eral property was a crisis, then announcing it was not. But with the inaugural 
address, he took great time and care in writing and rewriting, knowing that 
his first official words might determine the fate of the country. He was careful 
to conceal his thoughts from all but a chosen tew advisers, though at the last 
minute he accepted Seward's suggestions to tone down the tough rhetoric in 
hope of pacifying Southern unionists. 

Holzer's extensive documentation does, indeed, demonstrate that Lincoln 
had an active and involved four months in preparing himself and his admin- 
istration for what seems like an impossible task. So, other than gain an even 
greater appreciation for Lincoln and his challenges, can we learn anything 
from an in-depth reading of his preparation to assume the presidency during 
the greatest crisis in U.S. history? Does Holzer's book help us understand what 
criteria we as citizens and observers can use to evaluate presidential personali- 
ties and modes of decision-making? Possibly. 

What stands out in this description of Lincoln's four months as president- 
elect are three characteristics that can serve any leader well, and could be used 
to judge current and future presidents. First, Lincoln had a sense of humor that 
allow'ed him to sanely navigate the choppy waters of contradictory demands of 
the rational and irrational visitors to Springfield. His homey anecdotes about 
marriage disarmed and often impressed the pompous, gently making his points 
and demonstrating in a non pretentious manner that he understood both the 
concerns of others and the seriousness of tasks at hand. A president can be 
intelligent without arrogance or aloofness. Directly insulting even the most 
disagreeable individuals does little to promote dialogue and understanding. 

In the same carefully constructed manner, Lincoln attempted to reach 
out to those who thought the Republican platform toward slavery had to 
be modified in order to avoid national disintegration. Lincoln and his party 
consistently held slavery to be morally wrong but w r ere willing to attempt to 
guarantee slave- state governments maximum discretion to retain the "peculiar 
institution." But Lincoln drew the line on Southern demand to extend slavery to 
territories and new states, From a Frederick Douglass abolitionist perspective 
(and a 20th-century one), a middle ground on slavery was indefensible, but 
Lincoln felt he had to at least make some attempt to retain the Union. It was 
his duty. 

The Mind's Eye 97 

Robert Settee 

Finally, Lincoln was dearly a religious person, and his communication 
and speeches almost always contained biblical and Almighty references. But he 
expressed disdain for those proslavery opponents he believed invoked Christi- 
anity for non-Christian purposes. He was a humble servant, not a self-assured 
crusader. And when he sought to justify his actions or policy recommendations, 
he appropriately located his authority in the U.S. Constitution. 

With the knowledge of postinauguration history, it is easy to fault Lincoln's 
reluctance to draw an absolute line in the sand of secession and slavery. But 
Holzer's description of Lincoln's postelection months is a reminder that even 
great presidents cannot control events. Sometimes the best they can do is stay 
involved, listen well, choose words carefully and hold on to basic principles and 
the concept of constitutional government. That may be the most important les- 
son we can take from Holzer's description of Lincoln's four-month preparation 
for the presidency. 

98 Ihe Mind's Eye 


Robert Bence, professor of political science and public policy, has been a fac- 
ulty member at MCLA since 1976. He teaches courses in U.S. government, 
Canada, Africa and the Middle East. He has made numerous contributions to 
various issues of ihe Mind's Eye. 

Geoffrey Brock's first book of poetry, Weighing Light, appeared in 2005. His 
poems have appeared in journals including Poetry, Paris Review, PN Review, 
New England Review and Hudson Review, as well as in several anthologies, 
including Best American Poetry 2007 and The Pushcart Prize XXXIV. He re- 
ceived poetry fellowships from the NEA, the American Antiquarian 
Society, the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Florida Arts Council, 
and he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow from 2002 to 2004. 

Roy Carroll, former professor and university administrator, earned his M.A. 
and Ph.D. in history at Vanderbilt University. He was a Fulbright Scholar at 
the University of Leeds in England. His teaching career included a decade 
at Mercer and Armstrong State universities in Georgia and a decade as chair 
of the department and I. G. Greer Distinguished Professor of History at Ap- 
palachian State University. His teaching was followed by two decades as vice 
president for planning, vice president for academic affairs and senior vice 
president for the multicampus University of North Carolina. He also served 
one year as chancellor of UNC-Asheville. Since his retirement in 1999, he has 
continued to work with the Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund 
of the University of North Carolina. 

David L, Langston teaches literature, film and critical theory at MCLA. Many 
years ago, while doing research on the thought of Charles Sanders Peirce, he 
noted that both Darwin and Marx had published landmark texts in the year 
Peirce graduated from Harvard. Since then, he has come to regard the other 
signal events of 1859 as persistently pointing toward a profound transforma- 
tion in modernity that could be summed up with Max Weber's convenient 
phrase "the routinization of charisma"— a concept that he says should be 
adapted to denote a culturewide fascination with harnessing the untamed 

The Mind's Eye 99 

natural energies that midcentury thinkers saw impinging on the cultural or- 
der from every side. 

Mark D. Miller has taught literature and writing at MELA since 1986 and 
currently serves as chairperson of the English/Communications Department. 
He edits rWp: An Annual of Robert Perm Warren Studies and is an active mem- 
ber of the Robert Perm Warren Circle and the Advisory Group of the Center 
for Robert Penn Warren Studies at Western Kentucky University. He is also a 
published poet and has jusl completed his first novel. 

William Montgomery teaches in the interdisciplinary program at MCLA, 
where he regularly offers a course on Evolution and Values. He is a former 
associate editor of Ike Correspondence of Charles Darwin and the previous 
managing editor of The Mind's Eye. 

Maynard Seider, a sociologist at MCLA, teaches Social Change in Latin 
America and, closer to home. Social History of North Adams, What ties both 
courses together is his long-standing interest in globalization and its conse- 
quences for working-class people and communities. Seider was the project 
manager for The Spmgue Years, a local-history play that examines the role that 
global capital played in the demise of Sprague Electric Company. Currently, 
he is working on a documentary film that situates North Adams within the 
global economy as the city struggles to adjust to a "postindustrial" present. 

Louis E. Stelling holds a Ph.D. in French from SUNY Albany. His research 
focuses on sociolinguistics and North American French. As a member of the 
Modern Language faculty at MCLA, Louis teaches all levels of undergraduate 
French, guides independent studies in modern languages, trains teaching as- 
sistants and advises students who are interested in French studies. For the past 
several years, he has been one of a handful of scholars investigating Franco- 
American French, which is spoken by bilinguals living in the northeastern 
United States. In particular, he has investigated the relationship between the 
structure of the language and the role that French plays within a given com- 
munity. Other areas of interest include the history of the French language, re- 
gional variation in French, romance linguistics, second-language acquisition, 
language pedagogy, language shift and language death. 

100 The Mind's Eye 

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